A Crowd Pleaser

I overlook things all the time – but insects don’t. 

I walk, bike and drive the roadsides of Kankakee Sands every day, nearly oblivious to the thousands of hoary vervain (Verbena stricta) that I am passing. But the insects are keyed in--they know that this plant is a treasure. 

Hoary vervain grows in dry, sandy or gravely soils in oak savannas and in prairies. It is an early colonizer – growing in recently disturbed areas with bare ground, and it seems to have a particular fondness for growing along roadsides. 

In natural settings, you’ll typically find hoary vervain growing with other such native plants as round-headed bush clover, spotted horse-mint, sand evening primrose and prickly pear cactus. 

Hoary vervain gets its name from the hairy stem and leaves, which have an overall grey-green appearance. This two-foot tall plant has oval, four-inch long, three-inch wide leaves with serrated edges that alternate up the stem. 

From the top of the stem stretch one to three flowering stalks that are one to eight inches in length. In July and August, the flowers will begin to open, first from the base of the stalk and work their way upwards. The small, lavender, nectar-filled flowers attract a wide variety of six-legged creatures such as butterflies, bees and even ants!

Butterfly on hoary vervain at Kankakee Sands

Hoary vervain is a fantastic nectar source. Monarch butterflies, the rare silver-boarded fritillary and the state-endangered regal fritillary butterfly have all been seen nectaring on hoary vervain flowers at Kankakee Sands.  

In addition to butterflies, bees also nectar on this roadside beauty. Laura Rericha-Anchor, Wildlife Botanist with the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, has documented thirty-five bee species which visit the flowers for nectar. Hoary vervain also attracts ants and even the ruby-throated hummingbirds, too!

The flowers are aren’t the only desirable parts of the hoary vervain from an insects’ perspective. Caterpillars of the common buckeye butterfly feed solely on leaves of hoary vervain - no other plant will do for the buckeye caterpillar. 

Bug on hoary vervain at Kankakee Sands

And if all this weren’t enough, it turns out that hoary vervain is a great landscaping plant. It is short, stout, drought tolerant and not preferred by wildlife due to its hairiness and bitter taste. (We do in fact see an abundance of hoary vervain in both the cattle and bison pastures at Kankakee Sands.)

This small, short-lived perennial of a plant is surely not one to be overlooked for your own landscapings, gardens and natural areas. It’s a real crowd pleaser, not only for people, but for insects too! 

If you are interested to incorporate hoary vervain, and other native plants into your property, consider reaching out to a local nursery that sells native plants. The Indiana Native Plant Society has a fantastic interactive map on their website that shows the nurseries in Indiana that sell native plants. Check it out!


The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands is an 8,300-acre prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana, open every day of the year for public enjoyment.  For more information about Kankakee Sands, visit www.nature.org/KankakeeSands or call the office at 219-285-2184.

More Nature Notes

Nature Notes: Bison, by the Numbers, at Kankakee Sands

It’s that exciting time of the year when the bison calves are born! At the close of 2020, we had 93 bison in our in our Kankakee Sands herd. As...
Read More

Nature Notes: Hoary Vervain at Kankakee Sands

A Crowd Pleaser I overlook things all the time – but insects don’t.  I walk, bike and drive the roadsides of Kankakee Sands every...
Read More

Nature Notes: Chatty Little Grasshopper Sparrows at Kankakee Sands

Header photo by Kathy Malone Nature isn’t always what it seems – a chatty little grasshopper sparrow taught me that. For the first...
Read More

Nature Notes: The Smell of Spring - Skunk Cabbage at Kankakee Sands

After a long gray Indiana winter, it’s a real joy to smell skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), one of Indiana’s native, fascinating...
Read More

Nature Notes: Growing the Fancy Plants at Kankakee Sands

Trudging through the cold north winds on an early March morning, icy rains slashing my face, I make my way from the parking lot to the Kankakee Sands...
Read More

Nature Notes: I Love Winter at Kankakee Sands

Photo by Jessica Gomez TNC With its short days, grey skies and cold temperatures, February in Indiana can be trying even for the ruggedest soul...
Read More

Nature Notes: Crossing Those Lines - Migrating Monarchs

Photos by Trevor Edmonson This past September, upwards of 2,000 monarchs congregated on the oak trees growing atop the dunes at the Bison Viewing...
Read More

Nature Notes: Grounded - Leopard Frogs at Kankakee Sands

Northern leopard frogs are fast, real fast! They aren’t called leopard frogs for nothin’. They are
Read More

Nature Notes: One Bat, Two Bat at Kankakee Sands

This spring we were delighted to look up and find that our furry, winged, big brown bat mascot was hanging upside down again this year in the rafters...
Read More

Nature Notes: Royal Confusion - Butterflies at Kankakee Sands

Header photo: Viceroy Butterfly by Ryan Rasmussen/TNC In early September, our Kankakee Sand prairies are aflutter with orange on yellow, white...
Read More