Written by Matthew Patterson, Visitor Services Associate
Alyssum is a type of annual that flowers for months, even through the winter in milder climates. It is a hardy native to Southern Europe, but has naturalized throughout the United States. Although white is the most planted color, pink, lavender, and darker shades of violet are also available. Dense clusters of these flowers bloom continuously throughout the growing season if the spent blossoms are trimmed back. A compact, rapid growing flower which is drought tolerant and heat resistant, Alyssum thrives in full sun to partial shade, in almost any soil.
Alyssum grows only a few inches high but spreads as much as a foot in diameter. As such, Alyssum flowers form a striking border massed together as bedding plants. Planted in front of taller flowers, sweet alyssum won’t obscure them.
The name “alyssum” derives from the Greek prefix a- (which negates what follows it) and lyssa, “rage.” But our ancestors had a particular “rage” in mind when naming alyssum: rabies. Alyssum (especially the related yellow alyssum) was used in folk medicine, where it was regarded as an antidote to rabies.