Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells) Boraginaceae


Primary Facts

  • Mertensia virginica is commonly known as Virginia bluebell, Virginia cowslip, lungwort oysterleaf or Roanoke bells.
  • It is is a species of flowering plant in the Boraginaceae family, and it is native to moist woodlands in (eastern) North America..
  • This species is a herbaceous perennial plant that is native to Missouri and can grow up to 1.5 or 2ft tall. 


Physical Characteristics, Measurements and Description

“Mertensia virginica is an “erect plant with smooth gray-green foliage and nodding clusters of pink buds that open into light blue trumpet-shaped flowers. The 1-2 ft., branched and arching stems of Virginia bluebells bear pendulous, terminal clusters of lavender-blue, bell-shaped flowers. Large, gray-green, oval leaves line the stems of this perennial” (

According to authors Floyd Swink and Gerould Wilhelm in their 4th Edition, annotated guidebook Plants Of The Chicago Region, they provide a helpful description that helps systematically identify the plant via further descriptions and given locations, “Mertensia virginica is a species of wooded floodplains, growing with Acer negundo, Acer saccharinum, Allium canadense, Asarum canadense, Celtis occidentalis, Chaerophyllum procumbens, Cryptotaenia canadensis, Phlox divericada, Ranunculus abortivus, Rudbeckia laciniata, Sambucus canadensis, Sanicula gregaria, Ulmus americana, viola sororia, and Zizia auria.  In mesic woods it is found with Allium tricoccum, Claytonia virginica, Dentaria laciniata, Dicentra cucullaria, Erythronium albidium, Galium aparine, Hepatica acutiloba, Hydrophyllum virginianum, Osmorhiza claytonii, Polemonium reptans, Prunus virginiana, Tilia americana, Trillium recurvatum, and Viola pubescens, with a mixed tree cover.  There are fine colonies of Viginia Bluebells in Sugar Maple woods in Messenger Woods, in Will County, growing with Acer saccharum, Collinisia verna, Floerkea proserpinacoides, and Laportea canadensis.  This species can also become naturalized in wooded areas near where it has been planted as a wildflower.  31 March-24 May”(505).  


Leaf Structure: The leaves are rounded and gray-green, borne on stems up to 60 cm (24 in) tall. They are petiolate at the bottom of the flower stem and sessile at the top.

Flowers: Virginia Bluebell’s flowers contain five petals fused into a tube, five stamens, and a central pistil (carpel) are borne in mid-spring in noddingcymes at the end of arched stems. White flowers occur rarely.  The stamens and stigma are spaced too far apart for self-fertilization. The flower can be pollinated by bumblebees but due to its funnel shape bumblebees must hover, making the bumblebee a rare pollinator. Butterflies are the most common pollinators because they can easily perch on the edges and still enjoy the nectar.  In early summer, each fertilized flower produces four seeds within wrinkled nuts, and the plant goes dormant till the next spring.

Secondary Facts & Identifiers

Garden Uses

Best massed and left undisturbed in moist, shady woodland, wildflower or native plant gardens. Clumps may be sprinkled in borders or rock gardens, but, since plants go dormant in summer, they must be overplanted with annuals or used in conjunction with perennials (as ferns or hostas) which will expand as the growing season progresses.


ID Features

  • native Missouri wildflower
  • found in moist, rich woods and river floodplains
  • An erect, clump-forming perennial which grows 1-2’ tall and features loose, terminal clusters of pendulous, trumpet-shaped, blue flowers (to 1” long) which bloom in early spring.
  • Flower buds are pink and flowers emerge with a pinkish cast before turning blue.
  • Smooth, oval, bluish green leaves (to 4” long).
  • Foliage dies to the ground by mid-summer as the plant goes dormant.



Natural Growth Stages






Swink, Floyd, and Gerould Wilhelm. Plants of the Chicago Region: A Checklist of the Vascular Flora of the Chicago Region, with Keys, Notes on Local Distribution, Ecology, and Taxonomy, a System for the Qualitative Evaluation of Plant Communities, a Natural Divisions Map, and a Description of Natural Plant Communities. 4th ed. Indianapolis: Indiana Academy of Science, 1994. Print.


 Page Drafted by Thaddeus Mikaelian













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