Virginia Bluebells is a herbaceous perennial wildflower native to North America. It is one of the earliest plants to bloom in the Spring, giving you a lush pink-purple-blue carpet that is packed with pollinators. Flowering will generally last for several weeks. This native plant is trouble free if planted in it’s preferred conditions. This is one of our Top 3 Early Spring Perennials you should grow.
Virginia Bluebell Facts
- The common name comes from the shape of the flowers, as they look like little blue bells.
- Hardy from zones 3-8, check your USDA zone here
- Native from Arkansas/Kansas, then North to Ontario Canada. And East to the Atlantic Ocean covering all areas in between
- Climate Change appears to be pushing these plants (as well as the whole ecosystem) to flower earlier.
- Depending on your location, this can be a valuable plant for Monarch Butterflys early in their migration North
- Although most often observed on the forest borders, tree falls can open up light gaps in the canopy. This allows woodland wildflowers such as Virginia Bluebells to thrive
What is Virginia Bluebells Scientific Name?
The Scientific Name of Virginia Bluebells is Mertensia virginica
Do Virginia Bluebells Spread?
Virginia Bluebells will spread by seed. They often form colonies via self-seeding. Unwanted seedlings can be pulled quite easily though.
Are Virginia Bluebells Invasive?
Virginia Bluebells would only be considered invasive outside of their native range, which is generally anything West of the Missouri River. However, if you are attempting to cultivate Virginia Bluebells in a manicured flower bed, be aware that they self-seed quite heavily. So, they can form dense colonies over time.
Quick Reference Table – Virginia Bluebells
Virginia Bluebells Physical Description
A rather low-growing woodland wildflower, Virginia Blue Bells will rarely be more than 2′ tall (60 cm). You most often find large colonies of this plant in open woodland with dappled sunlight. The decades of leaf-litter decay provide substantial organic matter, which creates a loamy soil that is perfect for this plant.
Stalk / Stem
There will be a light green central stalk/stem that will be 1-2.5′ tall (30-75 cm). Sometimes there will be some branching on the stalk.
Virginia Bluebells will have alternate leaves along the stalk that are 4-7″ long (10-18 cm) by ~3″ wide (9 cm). The shape of the leaves will be oblong, and very smooth to touch. Margins of the leaf are also smooth, with no serration.
Flowers of Virginia Bluebells are very beautiful. There will be clusters of blooms (~20 blooms) from the top of the stalk that kind of hang down, similar to a street lamp.
The blooms are shaped like bells (hence the common name). When immature, the flower petals are pink, changing to a rich purple-blue as the bloom opens up.
Flowering will last for approximately 3 weeks, when the bloom will dry and generate a fruit. The fruit will contain several seeds.
Virginia Bluebells have a woody taproot.
Virginia Bluebells Growing Conditions
Plant Virginia Bluebells in moist, rich loamy soil with partial sun for the best growing results. That is where you typically find it in the wild, and it is always best to take a cue from nature as to how best to cultivate a plant.
I have grown it in clay before, but added a generous amount of compost when planting. It seemed to do well.
How to care for Virginia Bluebells
If you plant Virginia Bluebells in its preferred growing conditions, it will not require any special care. It is a native plant, so has evolved to thrive without special treatment or extra fertilizer.
Virginia Bluebells will go dormant in the summer. So, the leaves will turn yellow and fall over, making it’s own mulch layer (so to speak). If you don’t like the looks of that, then you can clear it out of a flower bed. But that is about all the maintenance this plant requires.
However, Virginia Bluebells will self seed. So, if you don’t want extra plants, you will have to pull unwanted seedlings.
How to Establish Virginia Bluebells from Seed
Virginia Bluebells is a tricky flower to grow from seed. The reason for this is you need fresh seed, or seed that has been refrigerated since it was harvested. Also, be aware that this plant grows slowly from seed, like Blue False Indigo.
Gathering Seed from the Wild
So, it is best to locate a colony of these plants, and go gather seed in June when the plant is starting to go dormant. Gather some seed heads and take them home.
Storing Virginia Bluebell Seed
Then, you can either plant them directly (knowing that germination will not happen until the following year). Or, you can refrigerate the seed until Fall/Winter in a zip-lock bag, and direct sow then or winter-sow them.
Virginia Bluebell seed planting depth
Virginia Bluebell seed should be planted just below the surface of the soil. It requires about a 2 month cold/moist stratification period. Seed should be kept moist until spring, when the warm temperatures will germinate them.
If direct sowing in the fall/winter, take care to make sure it is in the proper location with it’s preferred growing conditions!
Transplanting Established Virginia Bluebells
Plants with taproots can be very tricky to transplant. If you don’t get the whole tap-root, or enough of it, the plant will often die. But, established Virginia Bluebell plants can be successfully transplanted, as I have done it.
How did I do this?
- I waited until plants went dormant, and all of the leaves turned yellow and were laying on the ground. So it was not actively growing.
- Then, I dug up the plant, getting as much of the tap-root as I could.
- I wrapped the taproot in a sopping-wet paper towel, and then transplanted it to it’s new location within an hour or so.
- I amended the soil with compost as I transplanted it.
- Finally, I gave it a healthy dose of water.
The following Spring, the two plants I transplanted came right up. One of them even bloomed. They were healthy, happy plants.
Virginia Bluebells Garden Uses
Virginia Bluebells can look quite stunning as a small wildflower patch or border garden that gets partial shade. They can also be a great plant for a woodland garden, or strip that borders shade trees. Just remember, they will go dormant. So after mid-summer you won’t even know that they are there, sleeping in the soil!
This plant is a bee magnet! I always see them packed with bumble bees as well as other bee species. But, Virginia Bluebells will also be visited by Spring butterflies and moths. Virginia Bluebells is a great nectar source for early season pollinators.
Pests and diseases
No diseases seem to effect this plant. Deer will eat the foliage in Spring, but generally not completely.
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