Honesty: planting, care & propagation


For many years now, I have been growing various vegetables as a hobby in my spare time, which is what ultimately led me to studying horticulture. I find it fascinating to watch as plants grow from seed to fruit and to then finally be able to make use of the literal fruits of my labour.

Favourite fruit: Strawberries and cherries
Favourite vegetable: Potatoes, tomatoes and garlic

The silver leaf is a popular cottage garden plant. The plant is also used in floristry because of its eye-catching, pretty fruiting stems.

honesty plants
The modest honesty plant, is known more for its seed pods than its flowers [Photo: Orest lyzhechka/ Shutterstock.com]

The silverleaf genus (Lunaria) includes two well-known species that are popular for use in the garden. We present these in more detail as we go along. We also explain in this article how to plant silver leaf and propagate it yourself.

Honesty: origin and characteristics

Other names also exist for the silver leaf, such as moon violet, Judas’ penny or silver dollar. The plant belongs to the cruciferous family (Brassicaceae). The annual silver leaf (Lunaria annua) originated in south-eastern Europe and is now widespread in most parts of Europe. In most of these countries, the perennial silver leaf (Lunaria rediviva) is classified as native. The natural habitats of the hardy, herbaceous plants include forest edges and sparse bushes as well as mountainous regions. As the names of the two species already suggest, annual silver leaf is an annual-wintering to biennial plant and perennial silver leaf lives for more than two years. The upright, top-branching shoots reach heights of between 30 and 140 cm. The stems can be covered with varying amounts of hair. The perennial silver leaf forms a rhizome while the annual silver leaf develops a root bulb. The ovate to cordate leaves have a coarsely toothed margin and are stalked or fixed in one place on the stem in the upper part of the plant. When the silver leaf flowers, umbelliferous to cluster-like inflorescences form from the hermaphrodite, four-petalled flowers, which are whitish-purple or intense purple. The flowers of the perennial silver leaf are very fragrant, unlike Lunaria annua.

butterfly on an honesty blossom
Using its proboscis the green-veined white butterfly is able to feed on the nectar of the honesty plant [Photo: Thijs de Graaf/ Shutterstock.com]

Annual silver leaf produces a rather low supply of nectar and pollen whereas annual honesty plays an important role for moths in particular, as the flowers open at night. Butterflies such as the small white (Pieris rapae) and green-veined white (Pieris napi) also like to visit the silver leaf. Large, flat, oval to round pods form later on. When mature, the pistils fall off and the flat, winged roundish seeds emerge. In addition, the silvery shimmer of the partitions can now be admired, which gives the silver leaf its name.

The most beautiful varieties and species of annual honesty

In the following, we will go into more detail about the characteristics and special features of the two most important silver leaf species. We will also present the most beautiful varieties.

Annual silver leaf (Lunaria annua)

The name of this species may seem misleading at first because the annual silver leaf only forms a basal rosette in the first year, while the flower of the plant appears in the second year. After the fruit has ripened, it then dies. The correct term would therefore be annual overwintering or biennial. The leaves of the annual silver leaf sit in the upper part. The flower petals can be purple or white. The flowering period ranges from June to July. Lunaria annua can reach heights of 30 to 100 cm. The pod fruits are elliptical to almost circular in shape and rounded at both ends. Their pretty, transparent partitions remain stable until early winter. The evergreen, annual silver leaf can also be found in fresh, nitrogen-rich wasteland and hedgerows.

purple honesty flower
The flowers of lunaria annua often white or a vivid purple in colour [Photo: Emine Kamaci/ Shutterstock.com]
  • Lunaria annua ˈAlbaˈ: the ˈAlbaˈ variety features plants with pure white flowers. Their other characteristics are typical of the species.
  • Lunaria annua ˈChedglowˈ: these flowers are bright purple and the leaves turn a dark purple-green in autumn.
  • Lunaria annua ˈMunstead Pinkˈ: the foliage of this purple-flowered variety is brownish-green, especially in spring.
  • Lunaria annua ˈVariegataˈ: the special feature of this purple-flowered variety is its foliage. While the basal leaves are mainly green, the leaves fade into an increasingly intense greenish creamy white towards the tip.
lunaria annua variegata
The striking leaves of the lunaria annua variegata [Photo: Nikolay Kurzenko/ Shutterstock.com]

Perennial silver leaf (Lunaria rediviva)

The perennial silver leaf is, as the name suggests, a longer-living species. Occasionally, it is also called wild silver leaf. The leaves of this deciduous species are all stalked on the stems. The colour of the petals is mostly pale purple and the flowering period is from May to June. Lunaria rediviva can grow between 30 and 140 cm in height. Unlike the annual silver leaf, the fruits are elliptical to broadly lanceolate in shape and pointed at both ends. The fruit clusters are not quite as durable as those of Lunaria annua. The species is found in fresh, humid ravines and rocky areas but is also often found in parks. The perennial silver leaf has a high nutrient requirement and prefers fine, alkali-rich soil.

perennial honesty plant
The perennial honesty has mainly pale purple blossoms [Photo: S.O.E/ Shutterstock.com]
  • Lunaria rediviva ˈPartway Whiteˈ: the leaves of this unusual variety have a broad, white margin. In addition, the foliage has a purple tinge when budding. The flower radiates in pure white. Its seeds are difficult to obtain in Germany – in England the variety is more widespread.
perennial honesty seed pod
The seeds pods of the perennial honesty are distinctly narrower and pointed [Photo: Tatiana Belova/ Shutterstock.com]

Planting honesty

Silver leaf should be planted or sown as early as possible in the year or even in autumn. This is because the plant is made to flower by cold weather and specimens sown too late will therefore no longer flower.
The silver leaf does best in light, partially shaded to sunny spots with well-drained, nitrogen-rich soil. Lunaria annua enjoys a moderately dry to fresh site, while Lunaria rediviva prefers fresh to very moist places.

Silver leaf is mainly offered sold in seed form in shops – you will find step-by-step instructions on how sowing works in the section on propagating silver leaf. For planting, the intended site should be well loosened in advance and the soil enriched with a little compost or good-quality soil before planting. To improve this, ready-made compost or our peat-free Plantura Organic Enriched Compost can be used. Its high humus content and added fertilisers provide a good source of nutrients for the silver leaf. Its high humus content improves the fertility of the soil as well as the heat and water balance. The living microorganisms of the Trichoderma genus contained in our compost contribute to improved, healthy plant growth by promoting the release of nutrients in the substrate. This makes the silver leaf less sensitive to stress factors such as drought.

Organic Enriched Compost, 40L
Organic Enriched Compost, 40L
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  • Perfect for all crops and ornamental plants with a high nutrient requirement & for raised beds
  • Improves soil quality & promotes healthy root growth
  • Peat-free & organic soil: CO2-saving composition

Weeds should be removed from the soil so that they do not compete with the cruciferous plant for nutrients, water and light. Next, place the silver leaf in the soil so that the root ball is flush with the soil. Press down the substrate and water well – the soil should not be allowed to dry out, especially during the growing phase. Annual honesty is well suited for planting in small groups of 3 to 10 specimens – keep a planting distance of 40 to 50 cm between them.

Tip: it is also important to know that the plants are intolerant to salt. This means that they should never come into contact with road salt or be fertilised with mineral fertilisers.

Important care measures

Silver leaf that is planted in an optimal location does not require much care. The sunnier and drier the plant, the more watering is needed to meet its constant need for water. Ideally, always keep the soil moist. Even in an optimal location, continue watering during prolonged drought. The annual silver leaf copes somewhat better with dry spells than the perennial silver leaf.

Silver leaf only requires pruning if the shoots that have died over the winter are a nuisance – these can then be cut off in spring. You should also remove the fruiting stalks in autumn if self-seeding is undesirable.

honesty plant in winter
Even in winter the honesty plant is a beautiful addition to any garden [Photo: Ksenia Lada/ Shutterstock.com]

Similar to some other species from the cruciferous family, Lunaria has quite high nutrient requirements. These can be met with a slow-release fertiliser. A fertiliser with an NPK ratio of 6-3-4, such as our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food, is ideal for this purpose. As our fertiliser releases nutrients over three months, only two fertilisations per year are necessary. Alternatively, finished compost can also be used to provide nutrients.

All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
All Purpose Plant Food, 1.5kg
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  • Perfect for a variety of plants in the garden & on the balcony
  • Promotes healthy plant growth & an active soil life
  • Long-lasting fertiliser that is free from animal products - child & pet friendly

Is honesty hardy?

While the annual silver leaf is hardy down to about – 23 °C, the perennial silver leaf can even withstand temperatures down to around – 34 °C. Frost protection is therefore not necessary in either case.

Propagating honesty

The easiest way to propagate silver leaf is by sowing. Lunaria also successfully self-seeds in locations where the soil is exposed and few other plants grow. If you want to propagate this beautiful cruciferous plant in a specific way, you can follow the instructions below:

  • The fruits are ripe when the pods are brown, slightly transparent and can be opened easily
  • Remove the seeds and store in a dry, dark place until early spring
  • Sow directly outdoors from March as Lunaria rediviva is a cold germinator
  • Loosen the bed and remove any weeds
  • Place the seeds about 40 – 50 cm apart and cover with 1 – 2 cm of soil
  • Water the seedbed and continue to keep it moist

Tip: for propagation true to the species, the corresponding plants would have to be isolated from other silver leaf varieties during the flowering period if propagation via seed is to take place. You could also try dividing the rhizome in the case of perennial silver leaf.

honesty plant seed
The silver membrane of the seed pod remains, even after the seeds have fallen away [Photo: Thijs de Graaf/ Shutterstock.com]

Is honesty poisonous?

The silver leaf almost completely non-toxic to humans and animals – just like the kale species used in cooking. The young leaves of the silver leaf are even edible both in raw and cooked form. Only the seeds should not be eaten, as they contain alkaloids.

With its woolly fruiting branches, the pearbush (Cotinus coggygria) also brings interesting textures to the garden. The foliage colour of certain varieties is also truly eye-catching.