Beautiful Native Plants

Blog HOME ***Our team of bloggers writes about all aspects of ecosystem gardening, from native plants to pollinators and wildlife.***

Friday, December 27, 2019

Ring in the New Year with Bluebells!

The bells are ringing!

A new decade fast approaches, but your optimism is challenged by reports of the Sixth Extinction; what to do? Why not make a New Year’s Resolution to ring in the new by using more native plants in your garden? That’s a win-win resolution - you’ll have fun instead of dreading its fulfillment, and you will be helping sustain all the life in your local ecosystem. Renew your sense of hope with bluebells, a native plant as intriguing as it is beautiful. 

With nearly 40 species native to the U.S. there is likely one you can grow, more on that later. You can’t beat their showy clusters of flowers, each one an exquisite tiny bell, all clustered together on a coil that lengthens into a graceful arch as the plant matures. Buds begin their journey clothed in pink, but four to six hours before each individual flower opens, its color is transformed by changing levels of PH within into robes of blue. Deeper blues appear on plants in more acidic soils. Occasionally a plant will stay pink, and even a few, same species, that are white. 

Growing Bluebells

Ferns, small as bluebells are blooming, make a good choice
for interplanting, along with other natives
In the eastern half of the U.S. the most common bluebell is Mertensia virginica, found from Georgia to Quebec and throughout much of the Midwest. These plants are ephemeral of course, meaning they emerge early in the spring and complete their life cycles before the forest canopy closes overhead. In the garden, replicate their natural habitat as much as possible, moist soils and part shade. Cooler sites will allow for more sun. Interplant bluebells with ferns, Solomon’s seal, (Polygonatum biflorum), cohosh, (Actaea racemosa), or twinleaf, (Jeffersonia diphylla), to fill in the spaces the bluebells leave by early summer, just as they would in the forest, too. 

In the Western half of the U.S. there is a variety of species to chose from, and most of these tend to persist throughout the summer. Like their relatives in the east, they have a long blooming period, four weeks or so, with occasional blooms appearing late in the season. Prairie bluebells, Mertensia lanceolata, are common in much of the West, and longflower bluebells, Mertensia longiflora, make it all the way to California. The pacific northwest has the charmingly named Oregon bluebell, Mertensia bella Piper. A bluebell for the northeastern salt coast is oyster plant, Mertensia maritima. In the super-hot spots like Florida, these bells will ring for you: lyreleaf sage, Salvia lyrata, learn about them here at GreenGardeningMatters.

The fascinating changes of one plant! Here the emergent purple leaves of a Virginia Bluebell, Mertensia virginica,
are fading to green and revealing the buds at their center. The buds will morph from pink to blue as they mature.

Information: Find and Grow Native Plants

Want more information on obtaining or cultivating native flowers, trees, or shrubs? Check out your local Native Plant Society’s web page. The American Horticultural Society maintains a list of all of America’s Native Plant Societies. The NPS websites have tons of information relevant to your particular growing area, and usually lists of local growers as well. Most of them provide contact information, too, and are eager to help you on your way. Maybe end of the year is great time for you to support your local NPS with a donation! 

Native bees need early bloomers. Long-tongued bees go in from the top.
Short-tongued bees are called 'robbers because they go in from base,
by-passing the pollen. But new research shows that far from being robbers,
their struggles to cut slit at base may actually provide superior pollination.

Value to Wildlife

So bluebells are fun to watch, but what about supporting the local ecosystem? Indeed, these plants, in all parts of the country, are especially important to the creatures who are springing to life first after a season of winter. The early emerging native bees need them, the hummingbird moths, butterflies and skippers. In warmer regions and in the west, they are blooming for the first arrival of the hummingbirds. Habitat destruction is contributing to the overall loss of these natives, so a place in your yard is an important contribution to their ability to persist into the future. We may not be able to save everything, but we can certainly strive to preserve as much as possible. 

As the new decade arrives you can help reverse the decline of songbirds, butterflies, bees, in fact, all of the pollinators - and all who depend on them - by supporting conservation efforts locally and globally, and by using natives in your garden and in your public spaces. 

Lead by example. “Ring them bells!” Bluebells! 

Happy New Year!

Sue Dingwell