Plant This: White mistflower

Ageratina havanensis

In the afternoon, my front garden is redolent with white mistflower, also known as white shrubby boneset, a Halloween-sounding name if I ever heard one. Its fragrance is not sweet but spicy and earthy. During the day, bees frolic in its sprays of white flowers. At night, white moths rise from it as you brush past. Wasowski and Wasowski’s Native Texas Plants says it also attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, but I haven’t noticed many on my white mistflower; they prefer the lantana and salvias.

It grows behind a cedar bench, in the light shade of the vitex and Texas mountain laurel, in my west-facing front garden. I first spotted white mistflower growing wild in the rocky medians of MoPac and Hwy. 360, tumbling over boulders on the margins of live oak thickets. Covered in cottony, white flowers every autumn, it stole my attention from the road as it brightened those shady copses.

Why the strange name boneset ? According to internet sources (questionable as they may be), plants called boneset were used by early white settlers to treat “break-bone fever,” also known as dengue fever, so named because the pain it caused felt like broken bones. I couldn’t find any information about Ageratina havanensis having been used medicinally, so perhaps it acquired the moniker boneset from its resemblance to some other herbal plant.

Native Texas Plants says it’s usually about 1 to 2 feet tall, though it can reach 3 feet. However, mine regularly grows to 3 or 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide by October. I cut it to the ground in February to keep it bushy. I love it paired with the glossy green leaves of Texas mountain laurel and the blue-green foliage and feathery, white seedheads of Lindheimer muhly grass.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

7 Responses

  1. bill says:

    The blue mistflower certainly attracts butterflies, in my experience.

    Yes, it does. I have some in the back garden, and the monarchs love it. —Pam

  2. The white mistflower you gave me is still alive. It’s only about six inches tall so far. At one point during August it died completely back to its roots. (I kept forgetting where I planted it.) Now it’s come back and I have great hopes for it having seen your photos. I see you been busy photographing bees, too.

    I’m glad it survived the summer from hell. I hope it grows and eventually blooms for you. —Pam

  3. Very nice photos, Pam. I have Gregg’s blue mistflower, which is pretty floppy for me, but does attract butterflies.

    You sent me on a paper trail with this post! According to my Rodale Herb Encyclopedia, it’s Eupatorium perfoliatum that was used medicinally and called boneset. This source says any flu causing body aches was known as a breakbone fever. Boneset was listed in the “U.S. Dispensatory” from 1820 through 1950, with Civil War troops receiving bonset infusions as both remedies and preventative tonics, but it’s not considered effective today.

    Hortus Third uses ‘boneset’ and ‘thoroughwort’ as names for all the Eupatoriums [some now seem to be under Conoclinium ]. In Illinois I grew a mistflower, Eupatorium/Conoclinium coelestium , that was similar to our Gregg’s Mistflower, along with Eupatorium purpureum /Joe Pye Weed, and the Eupatorium perfoliatum /common boneset. Hortus doesn’t even have wrightii listed, and neither does Marshall Enquist’s wildflower book—his ‘boneset’ is the white flowering Eupatorium serotinum, a spreader growing up to four feet. He also lists Eupatorium coelestinium, and a Eupatorium havanense/Ageratina havanensis, described as an open woody shrub, from rocky hillsides in the Hill Country, growing up to 5-feet tall with fragrant white flowers. This must be the one grown by a friend who lives in Dripping Springs—they are true shrubs.

    I wonder if either of the white ones would consent to live in my NW clay?


    Thanks for the sleuthing on boneset and eupatoriums. That’s an interesting history. I bet the one I have would grow in your clay, as it seems perfectly happy in mine. I did amend my soil with plenty of compost and decomposed granite, but it’s still black gumbo once you get down a few inches. I’ll save my next volunteer for you. —Pam

  4. Laura says:

    Just to further complicate matters, it looks very similar to what we call white snakeroot.

    Gorgeous – I love the white in the fall.

  5. Gracen says:

    Hey! I’ve been looking all over for one of these!
    It sounds like you gathered yours from the wild. Do you ever provide cuttings to others?


    Gracen, if you live in the Austin area, you should give Barton Springs Nursery or Natural Gardener a call to see if they have any. White mistflower is not hard to find, and these two nurseries always carry an excellent selection of native Texas plants. If they aren’t currently carrying it, I suggest you ask them to put you on the list for it, for their fall shipment. It should be in bloom by then. —Pam

  6. Lisa says:

    I came across your site by accident, trying to identify a lizard I caught (an anole, it turns out.) Very beautiful. I’m new to Texas, living in an apartment, but hope someday to have a garden here. Thanks for your nice site. Beautiful pictures!

    Hi, Lisa. Welcome to Texas, and I hope you get to have a garden sooner rather than later. Containers! ;-) Happy digging. —Pam

  7. Mark says:

    I stumbled in looking for information on cultural requirements for Shrubby Boneset in the West Texas garden. I’ve found this plant incredibly easy to grow from seed. In fact, my 3 gallon potted Boneset dropped a few seeds that germinated next to the parent. Usually I’ll harvest seeds and sow them in trays of premium potting mix. Germination usually starts after 10 days and continues for up to 30 days.

    Just another option for starting a great plant. Regards, Mark

    Thanks for pointing that out, Mark. Shrubby white boneset does grow well from seed. I’ve also transplanted several volunteer seedlings from the mother plant with success—no seed trays required. —Pam