Mertensia virginica (Virginia Bluebells)

Plant Info
Also known as: Virginia Cowslip, Virginia Lungwort
Genus:Mertensia
Family:Boraginaceae (Borage)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
Habitat:part shade, shade; moist woods, floodplains
Bloom season:April - June
Plant height:12 to 30 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: none MW: FACW NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: bell Flower shape: tubular Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] Racemes of long throated, hanging trumpet-like light blue (rarely white) flowers on short slender stalks at the end of branching stems in the upper part of the plant. Flowers are ¾ to 1 inch long with the tubular throat longer than the open ruffled skirt of the face; the bell-like corolla has 5 shallow, typically indistinct, lobes. Inside the tube are 5 stamens and a long slender style. 5 short dark gray-green or purple tinged sepals hold the tube. Flower 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 stem leaves] Stem leaves are light green, oval to egg-shaped, 2 to 6 inches long, 1 to 3 inches wide, toothless and hairless, nearly rounded at tips but pointed on upper leaves, becoming smaller as they ascend the stem. Lower leaves taper to winged stalk that extends down the stem; upper leaves have little or no leaf stalk.

[photo of basal leaves] Basal leaves are much larger than the stem leaves, to 8 inches long and 5 inches wide, and longer stalked. Stems are green, often purplish near the base, and smooth throughout.

Notes:

Not likely to be confused with any other species, Virginia Bluebells' natural range for the most part does not overlap with the related Northern Bluebells (Mertensia paniculata), a more northern species that has shorter flower tubes, hairy stems, and blooms into summer. More people are probably familiar with Virginia Bluebells in a garden setting rather than the wild. It is obtainable in the nursery trade but it is difficult to market due to the short period foliage is present; more often it is shared amongst friends, transplanting quite well. It loves open sun in early spring but persists better under a shady canopy as summer progresses. Like many species listed as “perennial” it is not vigorous in this regard and expect it to ebb and flow in mass and location. It is definitely not tolerant of sunny dry locations.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Interstate State Park, Chisago county. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in private garden in Lino Lakes and the Whitwater Wildlife Management Area in Winona county.

Comments

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

Posted by: Marisol - Minneapolis
on: 2011-05-02 21:25:22

In my graden

Posted by: Twila - Shoreview
on: 2012-04-10 16:27:00

They grow on the eastern open edge of our wood. A beautiful blue flower that has grown by itself - we didn't plant or tend them. How could I propagate these to become a larger group?

Posted by: sharon & dan - Byron
on: 2012-05-06 07:25:25

Saw them at the Oxbow Park

Posted by: Brian - St. Peter
on: 2013-03-01 20:13:55

I saw one clump of this plant in Chamberlain Woods SNA (Le Sueur County) on April 30, 2012.

Posted by: Fabio - Rochester
on: 2013-05-18 13:45:59

They are nestled in our backyard in among the ferns....lovely!!

Posted by: Peggy - Excelsior
on: 2013-05-27 16:03:46

Numerous flowers coming up this Spring in Hasta beds. I didn't plant them, and have lived here for 14 years, so have no idea where they came from. But, they are beautiful! I hope they are not a noxious weed.

Posted by: J.H. - Martin County, Fairmont, MN
on: 2014-08-10 08:35:38

These grow wild in my wooded back yard with lots of ferns. My neighbors yard is full of them

Posted by: Mary - Minneapolis
on: 2015-03-19 18:45:55

Where in Twin Cities area can I purchase Virginia bluebell plants to plant in April?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2015-03-19 19:08:06

Mary, see "where to buy native seeds and plants" that is shown on almost every page.

Posted by: Lynda Jo - Pine Island
on: 2015-05-01 15:17:20

Found these on the Douglas Trail today. Beautiful!

Posted by: Patrick - Minneapolis
on: 2016-04-30 12:01:12

Found a patch of these in the Mississippi River gorge in south Minneapolis. I see there's no official record of this species in Hennepin County. Is there any process of determining whether these are remnant? My guess is that's pretty impossible with the way plants are moved around. It's right off a paved trail, but it's not really a spot where someone would intentionally plant something as it faces away from view. Seems logical that this species would follow the River, so I like to believe they were always there, but I was curious your thoughts.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2016-04-30 12:28:57

Patrick, many species are under-reported at the county level, some natives, but especially weeds. Considering the habitat, it is likely this is a native population. The best way to update county distributions is to submit a specimen to the Bell Herbarium, then it becomes part of the official record. However, you do need permission from the landowner before taking any specimen, and that is not always so easy to obtain. In lieu of that, perhaps someone in the DNR's Biological Survey division would have some suggestions.

Posted by: Lisa - Rochester
on: 2016-06-22 17:06:30

I have them planted on a full sun hillside as I didn't know what they were or what they prefer when I acquired them. Happy to report that they are thriving and were stunning this spring.

Posted by: Jelynn - Maplewood
on: 2016-07-02 22:16:13

Found these in our garden amongst the peonies and hostas this year. Didn't plant them or tend them but they are spreading like a weed. Pretty flowers, so rather than rip them out we are going to let them flourish!

Posted by: Kathy - Eagan
on: 2017-04-18 21:37:02

Found a small clump of Virginia Bells growing on our property; didn't plant them. Have been clearing our hill of buckthorn & other invasives for the past 6 years. Exciting that the native plants are moving in.

Posted by: Jean N
on: 2017-05-04 08:54:11

Where to buy Virginia Bluebell plants. I live west of Excelsior and have the perfect woody area for successful plantings. Thank you.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-05-04 11:16:08

Jean, we do not track who sells what, but many native plant nurseries serving the Twin Cities area are listed under "Where to buy native seeds and plants". Look for that on most pages of this website. If they don't carry it one may know who does.

Posted by: Jessica - Byron
on: 2018-05-02 15:12:20

Found just a few of these in Oxbow Park today, flower buds were unopened and small still but I estimate they'll be in full bloom next week. Found along the river at the 2nd bridge (Maple Trail).

Posted by: Kathy D - Near Wabasha, MN
on: 2018-05-08 21:47:53

About a half dozen appeared in my cottage garden last year. I use city compost and lake weeds in my garden soil. Nearby, the Carley State Park annual bluebell bloom is quite a sight to see. I wonder how the seeds traveled here. I feel lucky to have these “volunteers” show up in my garden!

Posted by: Ben - East of Rochester
on: 2018-05-13 20:48:03

I had seen these other years but did not realize they were bluebells. There is a nice patch growing.

Posted by: Deborah - Duluth
on: 2018-05-29 19:10:19

I have these in my yard- part shade on a slight hill, discovered them when finally weeding out invasive lily of the valley. Prior owner was quite the gardener!

Posted by: Lisa - Fillmore County
on: 2019-04-23 23:42:22

A small plant with tiny buds was seen in the hardwoods of the South Branch Root River valley (within 100 ft. of the river) at Forestville / Mystery Cave State Park on Tuesday, 4/23/2019. I'd never seen Virginia bluebells so small. Had a photo I'd taken verified online by numerous members of the Minnesota Naturalists Facebook group. This area of the park does have a lot of bluebells each spring -- it has almost looked like blue, shaded water on the forest floor from a park road before.

Posted by: Ethan Swanson - Olmsted Co
on: 2020-05-02 12:45:42

There is a carpet of these blooming in Mayowood along the Zumbro River

Posted by: Aaron McGuire - Minneapolis
on: 2020-05-03 18:51:05

A healthy flush on an east-facing slope at Mississippi Gorge Regional Park in Minneapolis.

Posted by: Jean - Minneapolis
on: 2020-05-14 16:59:20

I took a picture of a clump of these near the entrance to Wood Lake Nature Center yesterday. We had a few bluebells in southeastern Iowa about 50 years ago.

Posted by: Stephanie McCulloch - Owatonna MN
on: 2020-05-16 07:21:43

A large cluster of bluebells on a hill in Kaplan Woods in Owatonna MN in Steele county.

Posted by: Betty - Stearns County near St.Joseph
on: 2020-05-26 21:04:31

We moved to our place in May 3 years ago.Gardens needed a lot of cleaning that year. So 2 years ago I noticed these bluebell flowers coming up among other flowers- hostas, irises, etc. on my terrace garden. There was one clump that looked like it was planted quite a distance away near the wood line. They are definitely the Virginia bluebells and not the Northern bluebells. They are beautiful, and the bees and hummingbirds love them! They do not become invasive. In fact, by mid-June the whole plant has pretty much died back and I just cut them off, and the other plants fill in.

Posted by: Marilee - Rollingstone, Winona County
on: 2020-06-01 19:04:27

Saw a beautiful patch on private property along the Root River bike trail between Lanesboro and Whalen earlier this spring. Guessing they were planted by the gentleman who has been removing buckthorn from his property.

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