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Virginia Bluebells Mertensia virginica


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Virginia Bluebells
credit: Christian Hummert (Ixitixel)/CCSA

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Family: Boraginaceae, Borage view all from this family

Description This species is distinguished by its clusters of long, bell-shaped blue flowers and the complete absence of hairs on the plant.
Habit: native perennial herb; one or few upright, sometimes branched, smooth, sometimes slightly glaucous, stems rise from a basal rosette; shallow roots; plant is dormant from early summer to spring.
Height: 8-30 in (20-76 cm)
Leaf: in basal rosette, gray-green or blue-green, smooth, elliptic to ovate, without teeth, stalked, to 8 in (20 cm) long; on stem, alternate, becoming somewhat smaller, oblong to oval, losing stalk.
Flower: 5-parted bell or trumpet, pale pink to sky-blue to violet, to 1.25 in (30 mm) tall; held in loose terminal cluster, usually drooping, often on one side of flower stalk.
Fruit: wrinkled, fleshy cluster of 4 nutlets, 1/8 in (3 mm) long.

Flower March to June.

Flower March - May (in south); April - June (in north)

Habitat Rich woods, bottomlands, wooded floodplains; also cultivated ornamentally.

Range Native to eastern North America, from Quebec south to Georgia, west to Alabama, Arkansas, and Nebraska; northeast to Minnesota and Ontario.

Discussion Also known as Virginia cowslip. Threatened or vulnerable in Michigan and New York. Flower color is influenced by soil acidity and alkalinity. When it grows in masses, this species makes a spectacular show, especially in the Midwest.

A smaller, trailing, rosy-pink-flowered species, Sea Lungwort (M. maritima), occurs on beaches from Newfoundland to Massachusetts. Tall Lungwort (M. paniculata), a western species with a hairy stem, extends eastward into Wisconsin, northeastern Iowa, and Minnesota. The genus is named for the German botanist Franz Karl Mertens (1764-1831).

Comments Virginia bluebell's foliage disappears after the flowers have faded. This is a desirable plant for damp, semi-shaded spots.

Exposure Preference Shade to partial sun.

Native Distribution New York & s. Ontario to e. Minnesota, s. to North Carolina, Arkansas & e. Kansas; naturalized northeastward

Site Preference Moist woods & clearings; river bottoms

Soil Preference Rich, moist, sometimes rocky, soils. pH 6-7.