Top to bottom: Tiger Eyes sumac, lunaria, Cascade Oregon grape

Lunaria. Lunaria annua. Some call it honesty. Others, silver dollars. Many, the money plant. Myself, I just think it works well in the backyard.

I didn’t know this plant by name until a visiting arborist pointed it out last spring. I’d seen the small purple flowers but ignored them. Once I took the lunaria seriously—give something a name and suddenly it matters—it became clear that it got along with the surrounding Oregon grape (Mahonia nervosa). The upright, two-foot tall plants have soft leaves and provide a nice contrast to all the splayed, sharp, and shiny shrubs about. Still, the fact that I can only find one picture of it in bloom is some proof that I was waiting, like most people, for it to go to seed.

As I’ve cleaned up an area where the Mahonia meanders, under a vine maple and two towering firs, I’ve had a hard time figuring out what to mix in. I tried a spare Ligularia but the slugs wanted it more. Right now, I’m testing an Orange Rocket barberry for its height, color, and because it shares a family with the Oregon grape.1 But the most deliberate pairing has been deer ferns (Blechnum spicant)—my favorite native plant. Their wide sterile fronds lay flat and fill the gaps, while their spindly fertile fronds shoot straight up. The lunaria, having already proved that it likes the conditions, will help to pull the space together.

Going to seed

It was in late summer, with the flowers long gone, that I knew I’d keep the lunaria around. Though it accompanied the M. nervosa nicely in the spring, it was when the round seed pods faded from green to brown that it became a welcomed addition.

I gathered the discs in August, once they started falling over. If I hadn’t wanted the seeds, I would have left the plants in their haphazard state. The silver dollars hovered over the ground, propped up by pointy evergreen leaves, and partnered with the Oregon grapes’s berries. The rich combination of textures was a natural demonstration of why lunaria is valued in floral arrangements.

At some point, the handfuls of seeds I’d collected were almost ruined. Or so I thought. I’d left them in a container outside one night and it rained. By the time I noticed, they were still damp and were turning black, which I assumed was rot or mold. But I kept them all, letting them dry under cover.

Then last weekend I took a close look, for the first time in months. Much to my surprise, the seeds were fine. I can’t speak to their viability yet, but less than ten seeds were clearly compromised by the weather—you can see one sprouting in the picture above.

It took about an hour to remove all of the seeds. They fall out easily, after rubbing the pod between two fingers. Sliding apart, the translucent layers reminded me of scalloped potatoes, but they’re more like thinly-sliced radishes. The pods have about three to five seeds, and once I’d emptied them all, I estimated there were 1,000 seeds collected. For some context, a $3 packet at the store might contain 100.

I may plant some seeds this spring or wait until fall. Lunaria is a biennial, like the foxgloves hopping around my yard, so they take a couple years to bloom. But here in the Northwest, a fall planting can earn a spring bloom. Either way, an easy investment. 

  1. The genus Mahonia is closely related to Berberis, or technically one and the same, though that’s not always recognized by influential writers (Dirr), nurseries, or gardeners. You know, everyone that matters. If you cut into the roots of either genus, they’re a bright banana yellow. ↩︎