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Mertensia virginica

Previously known as:

  • Mertensia pulmonarioides
  • Pulmonaria virginica
Phonetic Spelling
mer-TEN-see-ah ver-JIN-ih-kah
Description

Virginia Bluebells are native herbaceous perennial wildflowers. One of the most beautiful native wildflowers, Virginia bluebells add a touch of class to any garden. They flower when the spring weather is warm and inviting, beckoning gardeners to come outdoors to see their subtle beauty, before going dormant in mid-summer. In early spring, they emerge and grow in compact clumps and are up to 2 feet tall. The foliage is initially purple and turns green very quickly. The leaves are oval, smooth, bluish-green to grayish-green, and 2 to 8 inches long. The pink buds open and reveal delicate, pendulous, slightly fragrant, blue bell-shaped blooms. Flowering occurs, depending on the location, from March to May and lasts about 3 weeks. The closed blooms look like deflated pink balloons. The plants go dormant in mid-summer.

Virginia Bluebells are native to eastern Canada and the central and eastern United States. Naturally, they can be found in nutrient-rich, moist soils of floodplain forests and thickets. 

The genus name, Mertensia, is in honor of Franz Carl Mertens who was a professor of botany at Bremen. The specific epithet, virginica, means from Virginia.

These plants grow best in deep to partial shade and moist, well-drained rich humus. They self-seed and colonize. They can be difficult to propagate. It may be best to purchase bare roots, but it is sometimes difficult to find them in trade. Dividing plants in spring, or taking root cuttings in the fall may be attempted. 

Virginia Bluebells are stunning when growing in mass plantings around trees, shrubs, or woodland settings. They are a favorite woodland wildflower. In the landscape, they will need to be planted with other shade-loving perennials that will emerge as the Virginia Bluebells go dormant mid-summer. 

Seasons of Interest:

Bloom:  Spring             Foliage:  Spring      Fruit: Summer and then dormant

 Quick ID Hints:

  • erect, clumping perennial, growing 1 to 2 feet tall
  • soft, smooth, oval, bluish-green, 2 to 8-inch-long leaves
  • flower buds are pink 
  • flowers are terminal clusters of pendulous, 1-inch-long, bell-shaped blooms which appear in the spring
  • closed flowers look like deflated pink balloons
  • fruits are 4-lobed schizocarps that contain 4 nutlets per flower

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: Virginia Bluebells have no serious insect pests or diseases, but monitor for the presence of slugs and snails.

VIDEO created by Andy Pulte for “Landscape Plant Identification, Taxonomy, and Morphology” a plant identification course offered by the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Tennessee.

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Tags:
#showy flowers#perennials#native perennials#blue flowers#shade garden#spring flowers#rabbit resistant#mass planting#food source wildlife#NC native#herbaceous perennials#native garden#spring interest#pollinator plant#wildflower garden#food source summer#forb#food source spring#food source nectar#food source pollen#Coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FACW#food source hard mast fruit#black walnut toxicity tolerant#Audubon#woodland garden#pollinator garden#landscape plant sleuths course#shade
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#showy flowers#perennials#native perennials#blue flowers#shade garden#spring flowers#rabbit resistant#mass planting#food source wildlife#NC native#herbaceous perennials#native garden#spring interest#pollinator plant#wildflower garden#food source summer#forb#food source spring#food source nectar#food source pollen#Coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FACW#food source hard mast fruit#black walnut toxicity tolerant#Audubon#woodland garden#pollinator garden#landscape plant sleuths course#shade
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Mertensia
    Species:
    virginica
    Family:
    Boraginaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Native Americans used the Virginia Bluebells to treat tuberculosis and whooping cough. The roots were used as an antidote for poisons.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Root Cutting
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Eastern Canada to North Central and Eastern United States
    Distribution:
    Native: United States: AL, AR, DE, DC, GA, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, ME, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, MO, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, SC, TN, VT, VA, WV, and WI. Canada: Ontario and Quebec.
    Wildlife Value:
    The flowers attract pollinators such as bumblebees, long-tongued bees, butterflies, skippers, moths, and hummingbirds.
    Play Value:
    Attractive Flowers
    Attracts Pollinators
    Colorful
    Fragrance
    Dimensions:
    Height: 1 ft. 6 in. - 2 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 1 ft. 0 in. - 1 ft. 6 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Herbaceous Perennial
    Native Plant
    Perennial
    Wildflower
    Habit/Form:
    Clumping
    Erect
    Maintenance:
    Medium
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    High Organic Matter
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Alkaline (>8.0)
    Neutral (6.0-8.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Moist
    Available Space To Plant:
    12 inches-3 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Schizocarp
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    In the early summer, the pollinated flowers produce 4-lobed fruits or schizocarps that contain nutlets. There are 4 nutlets per flower. The nutlets are dark brown, ovoid, flat on one side, and appear wrinkled.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Blue
    Pink
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Cyme
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Shape:
    Bell
    Trumpet
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    The pink buds open to pendulous, slightly fragrant, blue bell-shaped flowers. They appear in loose clusters or cymes at the ends of the arched stems. Each bloom is a nodding, trumpet, 3/4 to 1-inch long, light blue with five petals that fuse to form the trumpet. There are five white stamens with light brown anthers. The pistil is long, thin, and white. They bloom for about 3 weeks n the spring
  • Leaves:
    Leaf Color:
    Blue
    Gray/Silver
    Green
    Purple/Lavender
    Leaf Feel:
    Smooth
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Oblong
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    In the early spring, the foliage emerges deep purple but quickly transitions to green. The leaves are smooth, oval to oblong, bluish-green to grayish-green, and have prominent veins and entire margins. The leaves are alternate in arrangement, 2 to 6 inches long, and 1 to 3 inches wide along the stem. At the base of the stem, the leaves are longer and wider and measure up to 8 inches long and 5 inches wide. The lower leaves have a petiole, while the upper leaves appear sessile. The foliage dies to the ground in mid-summer, and the plant becomes dormant.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Purple/Lavender
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Surface:
    Smooth (glabrous)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are light green, but they are occasionally tinged with purple at the base of the plant. They are smooth, tapering, succulent, fragile, nearly hollow, and occasionally branched.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Small Space
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Cottage Garden
    Native Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Rock Garden
    Design Feature:
    Border
    Mass Planting
    Small groups
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Hummingbirds
    Pollinators
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Black Walnut
    Rabbits