Sunday, April 5, 2015

Ring in Spring with Virginia Bluebells

When it comes to spring ephemeral wildflowers, they are all pretty amazing. The fresh and vibrant appearance of their flowers after winter touches us in a special way. I’m not going to pick a favorite, but let’s just say that blue was always my favorite color.

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells) is the only eastern species in a genus having 19 mostly north and western species. Thank goodness – we are fortunate to have them. They naturally grow in only the northwestern counties of Georgia, and I first saw them in Walker County, on the Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail.

Generally they are pretty adaptable to garden conditions as long as you meet their moisture needs. They naturally grow in moist areas and really need above average conditions in terms of moisture. I have tried them in several areas in my yard. Not only do they not bloom in drier areas, but the leaves get smaller and smaller!

Early buds on Virginia bluebells
Their soft cabbage-like leaves emerge in early March for me. When they come out of the ground, they are tinged with purple. The purple fades as the leaves expand, but a hint of it remains in the mature blue-gray-green color. I anxiously look for signs of flower buds, and they finally appear as tiny, pink raisin-like buds in drooping clusters.

These can’t be bluebells, you think; they aren’t blue! The bloom stalk continues to lengthen, growing taller while the buds also expand, gradually developing a blue color. My favorite phase is when there is a mixture of pink buds and blue blooms in the same cluster. What a combination!

Virginia bluebell flowers are in clusters

Flowers are pollinated by long-tongued bees. I’m always glad to have flowers for our native bees. Once the flowers fade, the plant is pretty non-descript.  The pollinated flowers develop dry fruit structures known as schizocarps that contain small nutlets.

Delicate flowers against a rustic board

If you’ve got the right conditions, give Virginia bluebells a try. 

If you don’t, similar blue flowers can be found in spring on scorpionweed (Phacelia bipinnatifida), woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata) or Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans).

1 comment:

  1. Leaf looks like that on poke salad.
    I plan to drive up for Finster fest in May. I wish they would still be blooming.
    Carolina Jessamine is blooming now. It is poisonous to honeybees but good for the native bees.