Evergreen shrub to 90 cm (potentially much taller trained against a wall). Leaves imparipinnate, to about 5 cm long, with 9–19 narrowly elliptic to narrowly obovate leaflets; upper surface green, with sparse silky hairs; lower surface silver with dense silky hairs. Flowers in terminal heads to 2.5 cm across, with digitate bracts, usually >10 flowers per head. Calyx 4–6 mm, silky-hairy, tubular-campanulate; teeth long-triangular, shorter than the tube. Petals pale yellow to cream. Fruit single-seeded. (Tutin et al. 1968; Bean 1976)
Distribution Albania Algeria Croatia France Greece Italy Slovenia Spain Tunisia
Habitat Open coastal vegetation
USDA Hardiness Zone 9-10
RHS Hardiness Rating H3
Conservation status Not evaluated (NE)
Jupiter’s Beard makes an attractive, silvery-leaved shrub, but is too tender for anything but the mildest sites in our area and is rarely seen, though long cultivated. The dense heads of flowers, resembling some sort of clover (Trifolium) are pale in colour, usually more cream than yellow, and are carried in spring or early summer. The brown, persistent calyx is a noticeable feature through the summer.
This is an unambiguously coastal shrub, native to all sorts of maritime plant communities including garrigue (Biondi, Vagge & Mossa 2000), on the Mediterranean coasts of Europe and parts of North Africa. Its tenderness is no surprise. Sims (1817) noted that ‘being impatient of cold, and at the same time requiring a pure air, it is not so commonly met with in our greenhouses as it deserves’. It has probably been in British cultivation since the 17th century (Sims 1817). A sunny, open site in a very sheltered garden, such as the Chelsea Physic Garden in central London’s urban heat island, seems ideal (see image below). It can be trained against a sunny wall, and can become unnaturally tall (over 3 m) there, although Bean (1976) notes that even on a wall at Kew, further from the centre of London, it was sometimes injured by cold. The silvery-hairy leaves are shown off well in such a setting; it was probably this feature that inspired both the common name and Linnaeus’ (1753) specific epithet.
It has far more potential as a garden plant in Mediterranean areas, where its tolerance of exposure and salt could prove useful (Trigka & Papafotiou 2017). In North America it might be expected to suit coastal California, but is seldom seen. A plant was growing at University of California Botanical Garden, Berkeley, in 2008–9 (CalPhotos 2023), but is no longer listed in the catalogue (University of California Botanical Garden 2023).