Creeping Jacob's Ladder: Purple-flowering perennial perfect for your garden.

April 21st, 2020


Creeping Jacob’s ladder is a perennial, multiplying via rhizomes, underground stems or, sexually, seeds. It is native to North America.

physical description

It rarely attains a height of more than 12 inches and is about 12 inches in breadth. It has light blue flowers (though some new cultivars have white and pink flowers) that arrive in late spring and last for about 2 – 3 weeks.


Creeping Jacob’s ladder is best grown in moist, humus-rich and well-drained soil in part shade. It tolerates full sun in cool summer climates. Although technically rhizomatous (using underground stems to asexually reproduce), plants do not creep as the common name somewhat erroneously suggests. It does freely self-seed in optimum growing conditions. If conditions are favorable, this plant will spread out and cover an area within a few years.

The flowers are mildly fragrant and attract butterflies along with other wildlife. This species is deer-tolerant and is not considered attractive to insect pests or diseases.

Creeping Jacob’s ladder is found in the midwestern states from southern Missouri south to Texas and eastward to the Carolinas. 


All photos courtesy iNaturalist users: billy liar, rcurtis, Mark McKnight. Used by CC license. To view individual observations, click the photos above.


In most cases, creeping Jacob’s ladder is used as a ground cover. At Reflection Riding, you can find it along both sides of the path from the parking lot to the boardwalk. It's a great alternative to vinca which is highly invasive (and also abundant at Reflection Riding). It is best located in partially shaded areas of the rock garden, naturalized areas, woodland gardens or native plant gardens.

protection status

This species has no federal or international protection.

interesting information

This species is referred to as a “ladder” due to leaflets growing out from the stems seemingly reminiscent of a ladder.

The genus name comes from the Greek name polemonion, originally applied to a medicinal plant associated with Polemon of Cappadocia. The species epithet, reptansrefers to creeping.

Charlie Belin is a retired professor and biological oceanographer. He taught five courses in the University of Georgia system for many years from his homebase in Savannah, Georgia. 

Charlie loves hiking at Reflection Riding, teaching children about the ecology of the area, and interacting with the Reflection Riding staff. They are GREAT!

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Posted by Charlie Belin  | Category: native plants
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