Valeriana officinalis (Garden Heliotrope)

Plant Info
Also known as: Garden Valerian, White Valerian
Family:Valerianaceae (Valerian)
Life cycle:perennial
  • Invasive - ERADICATE!
Habitat:part shade, sun; moist or wet soil; shores, woodland edges, ditches, gardens
Bloom season:July - October
Plant height:3 to 6 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Flower shape: tubular Cluster type: flat Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers] Flat to round clusters up to 4 inches across of tiny trumpet shaped flowers. Flowers are pinkish to white, up to ¼ inch long with five round lobes; 3 creamy white stamens poke out of the tube. A plant may have multiple clusters on branching stems in the upper plant.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] The opposite, compound leaves are up the 8 inches long, each with 7-12 pairs of narrow lance-shaped, toothed leaflets with scattered hairs on lower surface. Leaves become smaller and leaflets become narrower as they ascend the stem. Stems are finely hairy, especially at nodes.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed with plume

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a brown seed, about 1/8 inch long, with an array of feathery hairs radiating at the top.


Garden Heliotrope is a good example of how foreign invasive species typically exist for many decades in small isolated pockets. Population expansion is cryptic to casual observers until it suddenly becomes exponential and it starts showing up everywhere. Landowners and resource managers can expect this to become a frequent management problem in the near future while common backyard gardeners will have no notion that they are the source of the invasion. It is now becoming quite common on roadsides along the north shore of Lake Superior and will only get worse with time. The Wisconsin DNR recognized the potential threat this species presented back in the 1990s, and Connecticut has seen fit to ban it altogether.

While doing research on this species, I came across claim after claim of how beneficial it is to pollinators, but it is simply another nectar source—sugar water would do just as well, along with countless native species that provided nectar long before this plant ever arrived here. I have not found any account of Garden Heliotrope being a host plant for any native insects. Reading various gardeners' blogs, at first I found it interesting how excited they'd get when this wonder plant started spreading into all corners of their gardens. But this discourages me, as it demonstrates both the invasive nature of the beast, and the blindness of the average gardener to the invasive behavior.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken along the North Shore of Lake Superior, St. Louis County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at a nature center in Hennepin County, and in Winona County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Laurel - LAKEVILLE
on: 2014-06-16 17:02:57

Thank you ! Was going to purchase because of this: A list of good plants for tough sites (from UM Extension). I'm glad I investigated further.

Posted by: carole - White Bear Lake, MN
on: 2014-07-30 19:32:35

This is the first infestation I've found in Ramsey County MN; near the intersection of County road D, Bellaire Ave and I694.

Posted by: Alek - Minneapolis
on: 2015-01-28 19:49:38

This is quite sad how negatively you speak of valeriana officinalis. Yes it is not native to MN, but it was brought here for a reason, it has many different amazing medicinal benefits! It's use was recorded by Hippocrates in Ancient Greek and Rome times. Valerian is a powerful nervine, stimulant, carminative, and antispasmodic. The plant alleviates pain and promotes sleep. A lot of people rely on this plant. If you find some please don't pick it, let the herbal community know so it can be properly cared for.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2015-01-30 20:24:25

Alek, yes, we do speak very negatively about Valeriana officinalis. We are not unaware of its herbal uses, but humans are not the only living creatures on this planet. It is our responsibility to protect our native insects, birds and other wildlife. Invasive species such as Valeriana officinalis can pose significant threats to the delicate balance in nature by crowding out the native plants our native insects depend on to survive and thrive. When plant biodiversity declines, so do insects, then birds, then on up the food chain. We all lose in the end.

So I'm sorry, but if we find this plant in the wild, we will not save it, but continue to exterminate it when we can so that our native ecosystems are not degraded more than they already are.

If herbalists are bringing such plants into this country and allowing them to run amok, they have a role in the destruction of our natural areas. You should not condone this, but should learn to appreciate and restore the balance of nature and prevent such destruction in the future. Seems to me that would be a perfectly logical thing for a "naturalist" to do!

If you must have such plants, I ask you to be accountable for your actions and learn to propagate them responsibly so they cannot do harm to the non-human populations of this planet.

Posted by: Kathy - Montgomery
on: 2015-03-03 17:14:40

Alek was only requesting that in cases of infestation that the person contact the herbal community whom would probably be more than happy to dig it up and let others know. If we go along with the upsetting the delicate balance emergency eradication measures, maybe we ought to hike ourselves back to England, Ireland, Italy etc and give the Indians back their Garden of Eden. Not to mention Genetic modification, herbicides, fracking etc. etc.

Posted by: Mike - Duluth
on: 2015-07-24 11:02:42

It has exploded this year on our land outside of Duluth. I don't know how we are going to control it as it is everywhere. St. Johns Wort, Tansy, and Valerian are squeezing out everything else. Come on Herbalists! Yours for free.

Posted by: Brian - Duluth
on: 2015-07-31 15:00:18

Valerian has simply exploded in population here in Duluth these past two years, blanketing every roadside it seems. I never thought I would see something out-compete the tansy, but the valerian is doing so very handily. I don't think that an army of herbalists could make the slightest dent in the valerian population, but I'd be pleased to see them try! I can't keep it out of our gardens!

Posted by: Janet - Hilloway Park, Minnetonka
on: 2016-06-13 19:39:48

Volunteers and I just found a handful of mature plants and numerous seedlings along a footpath in Hilloway Park and within the best population of showy orchis known in Minnetonka. We dug out all that we found. Even the seedlings need to be dug--makes garlic mustard pulling seem easy. Yikes.

Posted by: Mary B. - Duluth
on: 2016-07-13 20:39:12

We have this on the edges of our yard in Duluth, and it is quite common on roadsides, as you have noted. A landscaping consultant we had brought in a few years ago told us it was Joe Pye weed, but I noticed the leaves don't look like Joe Pye weed. Thanks for the info!

Posted by: Norma M - Ely
on: 2016-07-20 21:15:54

There is a patch around 30x60 feet at the Koschak Farm Wildlife Management Area near Ely. I wish someone would eradicate it before it gets any larger.

Posted by: Arthur G. - North Shore
on: 2016-09-19 04:03:05

I am a non-Minnesotan just back from vacationing in your state (second week of September). Saw colonies of this plant at multiple parks and pull-offs north of Duluth. I am still baffled by the nature of the diffuse purple pseudo-Joe-Pye structure at the top. Is this an inflorescence or an infructescence? Some had very tiny white flowers, but I saw no evidence of fruit, or perhaps didn't recognize it as such.

Posted by: Craig Winters - Underwood
on: 2018-06-22 08:22:12

Found this in Fergus Falls growing in a couple of back yards.

Posted by: Sherman - Duluth
on: 2019-08-10 22:10:29

I became aware of this plant around 1970 at my mom and dad's house near Snively Road in Duluth. It caught my attention because it was always popping up here and there in flower gardens. Its tiny flowers have a recognizable fragrance that I find disagreeable or annoying. I looked the plant up and identified it as an intruder in this country, so I frequently uprooted it and threw it on the lawn to die in the sun. I eventually was told by a friend of mine who happened to be a Siamese cat, that those partially dried Valerian roots lying on the lawn, smell VERY GOOD to cats. They roll around on them, smell them, and act playfully enjoyably intoxicated.

Posted by: Rodney - North border of Duluth Township (section 4)
on: 2021-07-13 18:44:23

Many plants in full bloom in our wetland and horse pasture. Had a bit of trouble identifying it, thinking it may be queen ann's lace or poison hemlock.

Posted by: Nate - BW Entry points
on: 2022-06-15 17:00:37

At the Superior NF, we make garden valerian a priority target species for invasive plant treatments. It is currently relegated to only a handful of infestations but I worry greatly how much damage this plant will do as it continues to spread. I truly believe it is worse than tansy in many aspects. Unfortunately, we've located 2 very small populations at BW entry points recently (Seagull Lake and Brule Lake). I've been able to successfully treat these populations and will continue to monitor the area for more but I worry about their wind dispersed seeds escaping into the wilderness and disrupting the balance of natural ecosystems in one of the greatest wilderness in North America. I hope people become more aware of the dangers of this plant before the issue exponentiates past the point of no return.

Posted by: Katie - Canada-NW Ontario
on: 2022-10-06 14:03:57

Just saw this in the summer in the "bush"--knew it was not Queen Anne's lace but looked similiar--Thought it must have escaped from someone's flower garden but it was definitely taking over along the bush roadsides.

Posted by: Katiejai - NW Ontario Canada
on: 2022-10-06 14:07:26

only came upon your site because I was looking for seeds for Valerian--to plant so i could harvest the roots for use in live mouse traps--apparently it attracts rodents. Another reason not to have it around home! So now i know where to go and dig it up. had a bit of snow already today--Sept 6.

Posted by: B. McIntyre - Pope County
on: 2023-06-20 16:01:58

I made the mistake of planting this Valerian in one of my botanical gardens here in rural Pope County. I had no idea it could/would spread and reseed like it does here in Minnesota. We had them growing in Montana when I was a kid, and they did not reseed and spread like wildfire, as they do here. I got the hint very quickly however, and consulted this website. The information contained here, helped me make a fast decision, and the plant is no longer in my gardens. As much as I love the fragrance of the flowers, and the medicinal effects of the roots, it just isn't worth it in the long run. This non-native may be pretty, attractive to pollinators, and smell great (except for the roots, which smell of dirty socks and jocks), but it takes over, and reseeds everywhere. And I mean everywhere! It took me a good long time to find and eradicate all the new seedling plants. Glad I did, or this Valerian would be all over Pope County and beyond by now.

Posted by: Candice Fritsch - Southern Koochiching County
on: 2023-07-10 20:47:18

I noticed the pink flowers poking through our natural wildflowers and used this website to identify the plant. Good thing I did to find out it was invasive. I haven't seen any more flowers but will keep an eye out

Posted by: John S - Esko
on: 2023-07-15 19:26:21

Just spotted three plants on my property away from the roadway. I have been very alert this year to plants as the Water Hemlock near and on our property has flourished in this weather. Glad to see it isn't poisonous but should be removed. Will get rid of it this weekend.

Posted by: - Duluth
on: 2023-07-16 14:01:42

Just came across this flower near the airport.

Posted by: John Arenz - NE Hubbard Cty
on: 2023-07-24 08:55:35

I have a 90 acre tree farm which also has approximately one acre of dedicated pollinator meadow. I actively support milkweed and other pollinator plants that bees and butterflies thrive off of. I welcome the presence of dandelions in the earlier part of the growing season and valerian populations mid summer through fall. Once was just grass to mow is now a source of nutrition for valuation insect populations. It is interesting that neither the valerian or dandelions are growing in the dedicated pollinator meadow but just in what use to be a very large area of crabgrass that had to be continually mowed which created air pollution and unnecessary fossil fuel usage.

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-07-24 12:39:24

John, I wish your valerian could be contained to your property, but unfortunately, that isn't likely to happen. BTW, recent studies have shown that dandelions are not really very nutritious for our native pollinators. Native plants would be better.

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