Mertensia virginica (Virginia Bluebells)
|Also known as:||Virginia Cowslip, Virginia Lungwort|
|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):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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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:
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.
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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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.
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