Mertensia paniculata (Northern Bluebells)

Plant Info
Also known as: Tall Lungwort, Tall Bluebells, Panicled Bluebells
Family:Boraginaceae (Borage)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; damp woods and woodland edges
Bloom season:May - July
Plant height:1 to 4 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Flower shape: bell Flower shape: tubular Cluster type: panicle Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] Racemes of ½-inch hanging funnel-shaped blue flowers on slender stalks, arising from leaf axils and the end of branching stems in the upper part of the plant. The bell-like corolla has 5 shallow but distinct slightly flaring lobes, the tubular throat is shorter than the bell. 5 sepals holding the tube are lance shaped and shorter than the tube. Sepals and flower stalks are both covered in flattened, bristly hairs. Buds are pink to purplish, turning blue when the flower opens.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are dark green, 2 to 5 inches long, ¾ to 1½ inches wide, lanceolate to egg-shaped, toothless, bristly hairy, with a long tapering tip and rounded base, narrowing to a short winged stalk. Basal leaves are larger, with longer stalks. Stems are also bristly hairy. 

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a sectioned capsule, each section containing a nutlet. The elongated white style projects from the center while it ripens, then shrivels up to thread-like tail.


Northern Bluebells are fairly common along roadsides and woodland edges along Lake Superior and St. Louis county. The flowers resemble those of related species Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) but the natural ranges of these two do not overlap, except in Fillmore county. The flowers on the latter have a tube longer than the bell, is hairless, and leaves are rounded at the tip. I've not seen Northern Bluebells in cultivation but see no reason not giving it a try. Its more northern range and site moisture preferences are probably a hint that it's not real crazy about hot, dry and sunny summer conditions, though an internet search revealed that Australian gardeners had an interest in it. Gardeners... go figure. There is a similar species available as nursery stock (the species name escapes me at this time) but it is a non-native.

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More photos

Photos by Peter M. Dziuk, taken at a highway rest stop in St. Louis county and Tettegouche state park in Lake county.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Ami - Brooklyn Park, MN
on: 2011-05-18 21:10:39

This beautiful plant suddenly appeared in my little backyard in Brooklyn Park, among the Wild Ginger, and twisted stalk. The leaves are not as pointed as the photos on this page, and more oval and delicately veined, such as baby spinach.

Posted by: Andrea - Cokato
on: 2015-06-09 19:14:07

Love this plant in my hosta garden. Spreads but is easy to control. Gets quite tall

Posted by: Kent - Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
on: 2016-04-27 09:29:11

Just moved to Minnesota and we were up on the North Shore in June, 2015. These were blooming everywhere along the trail that goes down to the bottom of the cliff below the light. Here's a picture I took that day:

Posted by: Millicent H - Faribault County
on: 2018-05-10 10:51:52

I have 2 large beds of them in my lawn and enjoy the blossoms each spring They were a gift from a elderly gardener many years ago.

Posted by: John Lawrey - Stoney Point-St. Louis County
on: 2020-06-01 23:13:09

Saw these along the gravel road that runs next to the shore. Reminded me of Virginia Bluebells, but the flower shape was different. The color is so eye-catching!

Posted by: Frida - Stillwater
on: 2021-02-18 09:18:21

I moved to Minnesota from California, and am in love with the nature and flowers here. In my backyard are these bluebells. I appreciate this website so much and for sharing all this knowledge, it is very enriching!

Posted by: Josh - Minneapolis
on: 2021-04-05 17:33:36

These are growing around my house in S. Minneapolis. I suspect that they were transplanted by a previous owner after a trip up north. They're a wild looking plant - the early leaves kinda look like dino kale and they have tall bristly stalks that hold lots of small blue flowers in the early summer. Bumblebees seem to like them and a hummingbird was visiting them last year. We're glad to have them, although they do spread rather aggressively.

Posted by: Susan Premo - Lake county, on Flatiron lake, near stony river township.
on: 2021-06-25 11:30:12

I thought I recognized this! I was thrilled I knew what it is. I love your site, I took a photo, and then could navigate to it, and yours, back and forth. Something to be said about technology, especially when we're close to the edge of wilderness. Beautiful plant(s).

Posted by: Axel Laack - Izaak Walton Wetlands, Rochester
on: 2022-02-25 15:21:06

I don't know if the bluebells I saw were northern or Virginia bluebells, but I think they were northern. I found a massive area covered with these flowers in Izaak Walton Wetlands, around Mother's Day.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2022-02-25 16:01:33

Axel, while it is not impossible northern bluebells are growing wild in Olmsted County, it is more likely Virginia bluebells in that part of the state. The herbarium records for the northern bluebells in Fillmore County put it pretty consistently on north-facing slopes, where it would be cooler. If you have any photos that show some of the diagnostic characteristics, such as hairy stems or leaves with rounded tips, you'd have a better chance at a positive ID.

Posted by: Michelle Wegler - Lester Park, Duluth
on: 2022-06-26 16:19:02

Two plants growing along trail in mixed woods.

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