Virginia Bluebells

Mertensia virginica

SUMMARY

Virginia Bluebells are an attractive early spring ephemeral that enjoy part to full shade and thrive in woodland soil. They light up the forest floor before the leaves have unfurled on the trees. Pink buds open to pendulous, trumpet-shaped blossoms. It’s a lovely sky blue that is not commonly found in wildflowers. Over time, these clump-forming natives can form beautiful colonies that bring a splash of color to shady areas, especially if the soil is rich and moist. As they often go completely dormant and disappear in summer, it can be beneficial to overplant them with annuals, shade-tolerant perennials, or ferns that will take their place for the rest of the growing season. Want some inspiration? Check out Carolyn’s Shade Gardens!

DETAILS

Other Common Names: Virginia Cowslip, Roanoke Bells, Lungwort Oysterleaf

Family: Boraginaceae

USDA Zones: 3 – 8

Life Cycle: Herbaceous Perennial

Height: 1.50′ – 2.00′

Spread: 1.00′ – 1.50′

Sun: Part Sun – Full Shade

Soil: Rich Loam, Clay

Moisture: Medium-Wet, Medium

Bloom Time: March – May

Bloom Color: Blue (may have white, pink, or lavender variations)

Uses: Naturalize, Shade Garden, Woodland Garden

Native Range: BONAP Map

Native Range Color Key: Dk. Green = Present in State and Native, Lt. Green= Present and Not Rare, Yellow = Present and Rare, Gold = Not Present in State, Teal = Present and Exotic, Cross-Hatched = Questionable Presence

NOTEWORTHY CHARACTERISTICS

  • Clump-forming perennial that spreads through rhizomes and seeds
  • Can form large colonies over time
  • Emerges very early in the year, often before there are leaves on the trees
  • A spring ephemeral; foliage dies to the ground by mid-summer
  • Flower buds are pink; blossoms transition to blue
  • Early food source for bees and butterflies
  • Seeds can be collected in late spring/early summer and are best sown fresh
  • Slow to grow from seeds, several months of cold are necessary to break dormancy
  • Deer and rabbit resistant
  • Black Walnut juglone tolerant

FAUNAL ASSOCIATIONS

PESTS/DISEASES

Relatively disease and pest free.

A CLOSER LOOK

By late March, the distinctive rounded leaves embrace clusters of closed flower buds.
Sky blue flower blossoms hang in drooping clusters.
June 10th – As a spring ephemeral that goes dormant by summertime, seeds (as seen bottom left) can be collected in May.

COMPANION PLANTS

In order to provide the maximum benefit to pollinators, it is best to plan for a succession of blooms. This ensures that as one species fades, another begins to blossom. In this way, a constant source of nectar and pollen is provided from spring through fall. The following natives enjoy similar growing conditions to Mertensia virginica: