How to Plant & Grow Devil’s-Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis)

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devil's bit scabious in bloom
The clustered violet-hued flowers of devil’s bit scabious make a beautiful addition to any pond garden. Photo by Anne Burgess / Devil’s Bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis)

Known both as devil’s-bit scabious and simply devil’s-bit, Succisa pratensis is a flowering perennial that produces unique clusters of blue-violet flowers. A member of the honeysuckle family, devil’s-bit scabious can be distinguished from similar species by its four-lobed (rather than five-lobed) flowers. The name “scabious” is derived from the Latin word for “to scratch,” due to its traditional medicinal use for skin conditions. In fact, this plant was used for skin sores caused by bubonic plague. The name “devil’s-bit” comes from old legends that stated that the plant’s short black roots were a result of being bitten off by the devil.

Members of the honeysuckle (Caprifoliaceae) family have a nearly worldwide distribution, but devil’s-bit scabious can be found in western and central Europe, and western and central Asia. It can also be found in eastern North America, although it is not native to that area. This plant tends to grow in damp ground but is not considered to be an aquatic plant.

Facts, Benefits & Uses of Devil’s-Bit Scabious

Marsh fritillary butterflies depend on devil's bit scabious
Devil’s-bit scabious is a critical host plant for the threatened marsh fritillary butterfly.

Devil’s-bit scabious is an important source of food and shelter for the marsh fritillary butterfly (Euphydryas aurinia). This species is threatened across the United Kingdom and Europe as a whole, and its populations are mostly limited to western Britain and Ireland at this point. Because devil’s-bit scabious is the larval host plant for marsh fritillary butterflies, this plant is an important part of conservation for the butterfly species. In addition to the marsh fritillary, devil’s-bit scabious also attracts a variety of other pollinators, including butterflies, moths, bees, and hoverflies.

These species aren’t harmful and won’t hurt your plants, so growing devil’s-bit scabious is a great way to encourage pollinators to visit your garden, and to support rare species such as the marsh fritillary. Thanks to this plant’s late blooming time, devil’s-bit scabious flowers can be extremely valuable for supporting pollinators later in the season when other flowers are hard to come by.

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Devil's-Bit Scabious Fact Sheet:
Herbaceous Perennial
USDA 4 – 8
Partial sun/Partial shade
Blue, purple
August – October (Late Summer to Fall)
Height up to .9 m (3 ft.)
Barely cover seeds with soil. Mature plants: bury just up to crown
pH 5.5 – 6.5

Devil’s-Bit Scabious Growth, Hardiness & Climate

how to grow devil's-bit scabious
Devil’s-bit scabious grows well in damp grasslands, damp woods, and along the damp (not saturated) edges of ponds. Ole Husby / CC BY-SA 2.0

Devil’s-bit scabious grows at a fairly slow speed, reaching a maximum height of approximately three feet over several years. In general, devil’s-bit scabious grows in damp soils, although it can sometimes tolerate more dry conditions. However, this plant will not thrive in hot, full-sun conditions.

Blooming typically occurs from July through October. From a human perspective, a great benefit of growing devil’s-bit scabious is that its unique flowers are a source of color in the garden at the end of the blooming season for many plants. From a wildlife perspective, the late blooms of this plant can provide an important food source at a time when nectar may be hard to come by.

How to Plant Devil’s-Bit Scabious In Ponds

how to plant devil's bit scabious Succisa pratensis
Bury devil’s-bit scabious just up to the crown (where the roots meet the stem) in damp, well-draining soil. nz_willowherb / CC BY-NC 2.0

If growing devil’s-bit scabious from seed, simply sow the seeds in autumn to mimic the natural time that wildflowers tend to drop their seeds. Seeds can also be sown in spring if desired. Devil’s-bit scabious seeds should be barely covered with soil and should have access to sunlight. Be sure to keep the soil moist once sprouting occurs.

If growing from an already established plant, simply bury the roots so that the crown of the plant rests just at the surface of the soil. Devil’s-bit scabious can be planted at any time during the growing season but avoid planting in severe hot or cold weather—instead, try to time planting so that the plant can have a few weeks to get established before experiencing extreme weather.

Devil’s-bit scabious does best in moist, well-drained soils, but will sometimes tolerate less ideal conditions. If you choose to plant this species in your garden, keep in mind that it will likely be several years before devil’s-bit scabious produces flowers.

How to Care For Devil’s-Bit Scabious

Many devil's-bit scabious plants in bloom in a field
Note that devil’s-bit scabious can take several years to bloom for the first time.

Devil’s-bit scabious prefers moist, well-drained soils. Too much water trapped in the soil will cause root rot, and too little will lead to wilting and fewer blooms. Be sure to keep plants well-watered to ensure your devil’s-bit scabious produces plenty of blooms in the summer and fall. However, remember that this plant will likely not flower until it is fully mature after several years.

This plant does not require pruning but, if desired, you can cut plants back in early Summer to keep them shorter and bushier. The easiest way to reduce the size of an overgrown devil’s-bit scabious is to dig it up and divide it. Divisions can be transplanted to propagate in new areas.

How to Winter Devil’s-Bit Scabious

Devil’s-bit scabious is a hardy plant and survives winters in zones 4-8 without much trouble. One thing to keep in mind while planting is to be sure that your plant’s soil will continue to drain well throughout the winter. If growing within these hardiness zones, devil’s-bit scabious does not require any special care to survive the winter.

Is Devil’s-Bit Scabious Toxic, Poisonous or Invasive?

Devil’s-bit scabious has been introduced to some areas (such as eastern North America) where it is not native, but it is not considered to be an aggressive invasive plant. This plant is also not known to be toxic to humans or animals.

Is Devil’s-Bit Scabious Edible? Will Fish Eat it?

Devil’s-bit scabious is edible to humans and has a long history of being used as an herbal remedy for a variety of ailments. In modern-day medicine however, this plant is only very rarely used. There is no evidence that pond fish will experience any problems if they consume devil’s-bit scabious.

Where to Buy Devil’s-Bit Scabious & Seeds? (UK & US)

Devil’s-bit scabious seeds and young plants are readily available in nurseries or online outlets that sell to the plant’s native ranges, as well as locations such as in eastern North America where the plant has become fairly popular. As always, please remember to try to purchase and grow plants for your pond or garden that are native to your area.

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