Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 1251 Mertensia virginica

Common Names: Virginia bluebells,Virginia cowslip,bluebells,cowslip Family: Boraginaceae (borage Family)
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Virginia bluebells
Virginia bluebell flowers have a pinkish cast just as they open, turning sky blue when mature.


Virginia bluebells is an herbaceous perennial with erect branching stems and pretty little blue flowers. It grows in a clump up to 18 in (45 cm) tall and around 10 in (25 cm) across. Virginia bluebells has alternate, elliptic to ovate, bluish green leaves around 6 in (15 cm) long. The funnel shaped flowers generally have long purplish tubes that spread open to a sky blue corolla. The flower buds are pink, and when they first open, the flowers have a pinkish cast before turning blue. Flowers are about an inch (2.5 cm) long and held in dangling clusters (cymes) of 5-20 at the tops of stems. One of the North American spring ephemerals, Virginia bluebells loses its leaves, goes dormant, and disappears by midsummer. ‘Alba’ is a cultivar with white flowers, and ‘Rubra’ has pink flowers.


Mertensia virginica occurs naturally in eastern North America from Quebec and Ontario, west to Minnesota, and south to northern Arkansas and northern Georgia. It grows in moist woods and shaded floodplains along streams and rivers.


Light: Virginia bluebells thrives in light, dappled shade, and tolerates near full shade. It needs more shade in warmer areas, but can take near full sun up north. Moisture: Grow bluebells in a moist, but well drained, humus rich soil. In the warmer parts of its useful range, Virginia bluebells needs a soil that stays on the moist side. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 7. Virginia bluebells is native to the cooler parts of North America and does best in zone 3-6. Propagation: Propagate with cuttings from the thickened roots taken in winter when the plant is dormant. Sow seed in autumn. Keep baby plants shaded, and don’t let the soil dry out.

Virginia bluebells
Jack found this large patch of Virginia bluebells growing in a woodland along the banks of the Banklick Creek in Northern Kentucky.


Bluebells are best suited to a woodland or semi-natural garden where they get sun in the morning and/or afternoon, but shade at midday. In such a partially shaded open woodland with moist, rich soil, bluebells can be expected to colonize and slowly spread. Note that the foliage will die back in late summer if you plan to use bluebells in a border or bed of mixed perennials.


The family Boraginaceae includes some 2000 species in some 100 genera, including trees, shrubs, perennials and vines, and occurring on all continents except Antarctica. One distinguishing characteristic of the family is the curious way the flower clusters unfold along the top side of a coiled axis. Common heliotrope, Heliotropium arborescens is one well known ornamental representative of the family. Other members of the family are used medicinally, including the European herb, comfrey (Symphytum officinale).

The genus Mertensia includes around 40 species, but only a handful are commonly in cultivation.

Steve Christman 1/27/16

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Mertensia species profiled on Floridata:

Mertensia virginica

( Virginia bluebells,Virginia cowslip,bluebells,cowslip )

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