Tall Jacob’s Ladder – Polemonium caeruleum

Alaska Wildflowers | Purple

The purple flowers of Polemonium caeruleum ssp. villosum, also known as Tall Jacob's-ladder.

Tall Jacob’s-ladder

Polemonium caeruleum ssp. villosum

Common Names

Tall Jacob’s-ladder
Tall Jacob’s ladder

Synonyms

Polemonium acutiflorum

Subspecies

none

Genus: Polemonium (Jacob’s-ladder)
Family: Polemoniaceae (phlox)
Order: Ericales
full classification

Duration – Growth Habit

Identification and Information

Polemonium caeruleum ssp. villosum, also known as Tall Jacob’s Ladder, is a perennial herb that grows from a rhizomatous root system. The stems can reach typical heights of 15-40 cm (up to 70 cm) and are often unbranched. The leaves are alternate and pinnately compound, with leaflets arranged in pairs along the stem, giving the plant its common name. Each leaflet is lanceolate or ovate, with a glabrous upper surface and a hairy or downy underside, particularly in cooler climates.


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The inflorescences are clusters of bell-shaped flowers that bloom at the top of the stems. Each flower is light blue to lavender or sometimes white, with a calyx and corolla of five fused segments each. The flowers have five stamens and a single pistil, typical of the Polemonium genus. The fruit is a capsule, which contains numerous small seeds.

Despite being a subspecies of Polemonium caeruleum, which is native to Europe and Asia, Tall Jacob’s Ladder has its distinct characteristics. It typically grows taller than the parent species and has a hairy or downy surface that helps the plant retain moisture and endure the cooler temperatures of its natural habitats.

It’s worth noting that the taxonomy of Polemonium caeruleum ssp. villosum has seen changes over time. It was previously classified as Polemonium acutiflorum, but recent studies have led to its reclassification as a subspecies of Polemonium caeruleum.

Uses

For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

I found no specific uses listed for Polemonium caeruleum ssp. villosum, however, its parent species has many traditional uses, especially in European and Chinese medicine. However, it should be noted that all parts of this plant are poisonous if ingested in large quantities.

Polemonium caeruleum L., also known as Greek valerian or Jacob’s Ladder, has a long history of medicinal use dating back to ancient Greece, where it was used to treat ailments like dysentery, toothaches, and animal bites. In the 19th century, it was utilized in European pharmacies as an antisyphilitic agent and a treatment for rabies. It has since been noted in traditional Chinese and Russian medicine due to its wide range of applications. Jacob’s Ladder has been used in traditional medicine primarily for its anti-inflammatory properties.


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Distribution and Habitat

Polemonium caeruleum ssp. villosum, a subspecies of Polemonium caeruleum, thrives in circumboreal regions across the northern hemisphere. It’s predominantly found in Alaska, northwestern Canada, Northern Asia, and northern Europe, especially in Scandinavia. The parent species, Polemonium caeruleum, is native to Europe and Asia, but has been introduced to eastern parts of North America.

Tall Jacob’s Ladder prefers moist habitats and can often be found growing along streambanks, in wet meadows, and near ponds. It is native to the circumboreal regions of Alaska, northwestern Canada, Northern Asia, and northern Europe, including Scandinavia.

Classification

RankScientific Name (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae (plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants)
   SubkingdomViridiplantae (green plants)
      InfrakingdomStreptophyta (land plants)
         SuperdivisionEmbryophyta 
            DivisionTracheophyta (vascular plants, tracheophytes)
               SubdivisionSpermatophytina (spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames)
                  ClassMagnoliopsida 
                     SuperorderAsteranae 
                        OrderEricales 
                           FamilyPolemoniaceae (phlox)
                              GenusPolemonium L. (Jacob’s-ladder)
                                 SpeciesPolemonium caeruleum L. (charity)
                                    SubspeciesPolemonium caeruleum ssp. villosum

References and Further Reading

Guidebook

Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg. 65

Classification and Taxonomy

Polemonium caeruleum ssp. villosum (J.H. Rudolph ex Georgi) Brand Taxonomic Serial No.: 526441, ITIS Database

Uses

Phytochemistry and biological activities of Polemonium caeruleum L., Phytochemistry Letters Volume 30, April 2019, Pages 314-323 (accessed through Science Direct)

Map and Distribution

Polemonium acutiflorum Willd. ex Roem. & Schult. Published in: Willd. ex Roem. & Schult. (1819). In: Syst. Veg. 4: 792., GBIF Database

Description and Information

1. Polemonium caeruleum Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 1: 162. 1753., Flora of China: efloras.org

Polemonium acutiflorum Willd. ex Roem. & Schult. tall Jacob’s-ladder, E-Flora of British Columbia

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