American Bellflower is a herbaceous biennial wildflower native to Eastern North America. Scientifically known as Campanula americanum, it grows 2-6′ tall in full sun and medium-moist, well-draining soil. Blooming a a tall spike of showy blue to purple flowers for six weeks in Summer, it attracts numerous species of bees.
In this article:
- What is American Bellflower
- What are the benefits of American Bellflower
- Identification / Characteristics
- How to grow and care for American Bellflower
- What Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases effect American Bellflower
- Where to buy American Bellflower
- Uses of American Bellflower
- Final thoughts
What is American Bellflower
One of the showiest short-lived flowers around, American Bellflower blooms beautiful blue to dark purple blooms in succession from the bottom to top for up to six weeks beginning in mid-Summer. Although contrary to the common name, the flowers are not bell shaped but 5-lobed. They also have a style that protrudes and curls giving it a showy, interesting appearance.
Dotting the forest edges and open forests of Eastern North America, it attracts lots of species of long-tongue bees who seek nectar and pollen. This is a flower that you may not be seeking, but once you notice it on a hike or in a meadow you will inevitably be interested in learning more.
A few words on the lifecycle of the American Bellflower – it can be either an annual or biennial. A plant will only bloom, set seed, and die, all of which occurs from mid-summer to Autumn. Seeds are dispersed near the mother plant, and initially can germinate upon dispersal or enter the seed bank to germinate the following Spring. Seed that germinates in Autumn upon dispersal will flower the following year, while seed that germinates in Spring will form a basal rosette that flowers the year after. This is because the actual plant has it’s own requirement that it must experience a cold period before flowering…..similar to how many seeds won’t germinate unless they go through a Winter.
Those seeds that germinate in Autumn or very early in Spring the following year may be annuals (if early Spring temperatures revert to being cold for a bit). While those that do not germinate until later in Spring will be biennials. I have seen this phenomenon in container grown plants that I sowed – I had some blooming the first year!
To avoid confusion, be aware that some years back it’s botanical name was changed from Campanula americana to Campanula americanum. Not a drastic change, but nonetheless some older references may use the latter botanical name.
Native Range of American Bellflower
The primary native range of American Bellflower is from Nebraska to Pennsylvania, the panhandle of Florida North to Minnesota to upstate New York.
American Bellflower Reference Table
|Scientific Name||Campanula americanum|
|Common Name(s)||American Bellflower, Tall Bellflower|
|Native Range, USDA Zone||Eastern North America, USDA Hardiness zone 4-7|
|Bloom Duration, Color||six weeks, blue to purple|
|Height||2-6′ (0.6-2 m)|
|Spacing / Spread||1-2′ (30-60 cm)|
|Light Requirements||Full sun to partial shade|
|Soil Types||Sandy loam to clay loam|
|Moisture||Medium-moisture, well-draining soil|
|Fauna Associations / Larval Hosts||Bees|
What are the Benefits of American Bellflower
American Bellflower is makes an impressive display when planted in clusters. Very showy, the tall spikes of blue to purple are eyecatching and really pop when contrasted against dark green backgrounds of a forest or taller plants.
Being able to grow and look great in many environments, there is certainly a place for American Bellflower in most home gardens.
The pollen and nectar produced by Tall Bellflower attract cores of bees when in bloom. Some butterflies and insects will be attracted for nectar while bees go for the pollen.
Identification and Characteristics of American Bellflower
Please note that there is much variation in the flower color of American Bellflower, and that local ecotypes may differ in color or size from the pictures I show you in this article. The key features of leaves, flower form, and stalk will remain the same. But the size and color may vary somewhat.
Growing 2-6′ tall, the stem is round with vertical ridges, hairs, and light green to reddish-brown in color.
There are basal leaves the first year that are cordate to elliptical in shape with serrated margins. The leaves are roughly 2″x2″ in size and may curl at the base, somewhat similar to violets. These basal leaves are attached by 1″ long petioles that will have spreading hairs on them.
Leaves on the stem of American Bellflower are alternating along the stalk, 6″ long by 2″ wide and elliptic or ovate in shape with serrated margins. The tips taper to a point, and the base tapers to a stem (petiole). There will be hairs on the both the veins and underside.
A spike of flowers occurs along the stem that is 6″ to roughly 2′ tall. Individual flowers are 1″ diameter and are dark blue to purple in color. There are 5 lobes resembling petals, and the division of the lobes resembles a star pattern. At the base of the lobes and center of the flower the color is often white. There is a prominent style extending from the ovary that usually curls or takes on a helical pattern and is the same color as the petals.
The blooming period for American Bellflower is in mid-summer to early Fall for roughly six weeks. About one month after blooming a capsule forms where the flower was, and will contain numerous tiny seeds.
How to save American Bellflower seed
The easiest way to save seed from American Bellflower is to monitor the capsules, and monitor them you must! You see, these capsules will open up by late Summer or Autumn, dispersing the seed. So you can’t just show up in the dead of winter expecting to find in-tact capsules as you would in Penstemon.
Once the capsules begin to turn brown, cut the entire stalk at the base and place it into a large paper bag. But, collect the capsules, and leave them in the bag for a week or two in a cool dry place, and shake it. The seed capsules will have mostly ripened by this time.
You can then separate the seed from chaff on a paper plate by using a common kitchen strainer, or just gently blowing on the plate. Store the dried seed in a zip-lock bag or envelope for a year or two out of direct sunlight.
The root system of American Bellflower is that of a taproot and fibrous lateral roots.
Grow and Care for American Bellflower
American Bellflower will grow best in part sun, which is roughly 4-6 hours per day. It can grow in full sun, but will not be that tolerant of drought.
For soil, the preference is for loamy soil with plenty of organic matter. But it can grow in clay loam, silt, or sandy loam. Also, it should be grown in well-drained soil.
For moisture, American Bellflower prefers moist to medium moist soils that drain well. It is not very drought tolerant, and will lose it’s lower leaves during droughts.
Tall Bellflower will will self-seed, so can take on a random appearance in a garden. Young seedlings can be pulled or moved in Spring.
American Bellflower will not require supplemental fertilizer.
How to Grow American Bellflower from Seed
American Bellflower seed can be germinated fresh, or Winter Sown for a Springtime germination. The tiny seeds should be planted on the surface and not covered, as they need exposure to sunlight to help break dormancy. Also, they need to be in a near-constant moist environment and should not be allowed to dry out once planted.
Process to germinate American Bellflower seed
The following steps will be for someone winter sowing the seed, as most people will not be collecting fresh seed to disperse on their own! See our guide to Winter Sowing here.
- Fill a suitable container with moist potting soil
- Press 3-5 seeds into the surface of the soil. Take care not to cover them
- Place the container in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. This step is important as it will help prevent the soil from drying out
- Germination will occur in Spring sometime after temperatures go above 60F
How to direct sow American Bellflower
To direct sow American Bellflower, in late Summer/early Autumn, simply scatter the seed on a disturbed area, and walk over it. Walking on the seed will press it into the soil, but not bury it.
Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with American Bellflower
American Bellflower will attract numerous species of bees, butterflies and skippers. Charles Robertson observed twenty species of pollinators in his exhaustive 1929 survey. This included 9 species of long-tongued bees, 7 species of short-tongue bees, as well as some butterflies such as the Painted Lady and Hayhurst’s Scallopwing. 
Deer and Rabbits
Deer and rabbits will browse the foliage of American Bellflower. I have personally seen the damage when rabbits mowed off the basal leaves of my plants. You should protect them with Liquid Fence until the stalks form.
American Bellflower is generally not effected by disease, but can get various leaf fungi, although the damage is minorly cosmetic. However, the lower leaves will turn yellow and fall off during drought.
Where you can buy American Bellflower
American Bellflower is not typically sold in nurseries, as biennials are rare to be available for purchase. But it can be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.
Where to buy seeds
We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)
Uses of American Bellflower
American Bellflower is a great addition to any garden in partial shade. In particular establishing it along forest edges or on the East side of structures works well. Since it is short lived, it should be allowed to self-seed where you just pull unwanted seedlings. Just make sure you can identify them!
But it is an excellent choice for crowded flower beds, rock gardens, and along the edge of woods, ponds, or streams.
I’m currently working to establish American Bellflower in the open woods behind my home as well as in our backyard Microprairie. For woodland flowers that bloom in summer, it is one of the showier species.
American Bellflower will grow well with other partial shade, moist-soil loving plants. Some good companions are listed below;
- American Germander
- Black Raspberry
- Blue Lobelia
- Cardinal Flower
- Crooked Stem Aster
- Hairy Wood Mint
- Heartleaf Aster
- Purple Giant Hyssop
- Short’s Aster
- Showy Tick Trefoil
- Smooth Blue Aster
And some grasses that would grow well with Tall Bellflower:
In pioneer times a tea was brewed from the leaves to treat coughing by both the Meskwaki Tribe and settlers. Other sources say it was used to treat whooping cough or Tuberculosis.
American Bellflower is a showy biennial wildflower that fits perfectly along tree-lined fence rows, forest edges, open woods, or anywhere with partial shade. It attracts a decent number of pollinators and is trouble free, making it an easy choice for border gardens, flower beds (if you don’t mind random self-seeding. And easy to grow showy wildflower that blooms during the heat of summer? Yes please.
 – Campanulastrum americanum (L.) Small. USDA NRCS. ACCESSED 25AUG2023.
 – Midgley, Jan W, Southeastern wildflowers, Crane Hill Publishers, 1999, pp308.
 – Art, Henry Warren, A garden of wildflowers : 101 native species and how to grow them, Storey Communications, 1986, pp290.
 – Baskin, Jerry M., and Carol C. Baskin. “The ecological life cycle of Campanula americana in northcentral Kentucky.” Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club (1984): 329-337.
 – Galloway, Laura F. “Parental environmental effects on life history in the herbaceous plant Campanula americana.” Ecology 82.10 (2001): 2781-2789.
 – Galloway, Laura F. “The effect of maternal phenology on offspring characters in the herbaceous plant Campanula americana.” Journal of Ecology (2002): 851-858.
 – Robertson, Charles. “Flowers and insects; lists of visitors of four hundred and fifty-three flowers.” (1928).
 – Galloway, L. F., and J. R. Etterson. “Population differentiation and hybrid success in Campanula americana: geography and genome size.” Journal of Evolutionary Biology 18.1 (2005): 81-89.
 – Runkel, Sylvan T, Wildflowers of Indiana woodlands, Des Moines, Iowa : Wallace Homestead Book Co., 1979, pp265
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