Mertensia paniculata (Northern Bluebells)
|Also known as:||Tall Lungwort, Tall Bluebells, Panicled Bluebells|
|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):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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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:
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.
Notes: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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Photos courtesy 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?