A Virginia bluebell with a funny blossom

– Posted in: Native/Invasive, Plant info

Virginia bluebell blossoms from different plantsI’m not sure what’s going on here, whether it’s some kind of mutation or a result of weather or other kind of damage. On the right is a typical Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica). It has the typical salverform blossom, and 5 sepals in its calyx (the part that is circled).

On the left, the blossom is a lot more frilly. I counted 11 sepals in the calyx, but I think I might have torn one in half, and it’s actually 10. I’m starting to wonder if perhaps this is a tetraploid version, where it’s got double the usual amount of chromosones. When counting the sepals, I noticed the “regular” Virginia bluebells had swollen ovaries–seeds were starting to form. That wasn’t the case with the frilly bluebells.

Whatever it is, I have more than one plant like this. Both of the plants pictured are on the shady side of the house. The other plant is in the Secret Garden, but I think it came along with the Solomon’s seals I moved from the shady side of the house to the Secret Garden.

In 2003, I had one plant of Mountain Bells (Mertensia paniculata) from Judy Miller’s Paradise Gardens Rare Plant Nursery. It didn’t make it through the winter, so I just had it for that one season. I suppose there is a remote possibility that this is a hybrid between the two species.

Has anyone observed this in Virginia bluebells?

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

In its own way, frost may be one of the most beautiful things to happen in your garden all year . . . Don’t miss it. Like all true beauty, it is fleeting. It will grace your garden for but a short while this morning. . . . For this moment, embrace frost as the beautiful gift that it is.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

Olivia54984 December 16, 2007, 11:33 am

What you are describing seems to be similar to the poly-tepalism and poly-sepalism that is seen in daylilies.

There are a couple breeders out there working with daylilies that are actually trying to breed for this trait. The problem as you noticed, is often the poly blooms are sterile. They tend to be more sterile as pod parents but sometimes have viable pollen. In daylilies, there can be both poly blooms and non-poly blooms on the same plant.

As I am always looking for something to mess around with, I guess I would attempt hand pollinating the unusual blooms and also pollinating the unusual blooms back with the regular ones on the same plants, collect and grow on the seeds, etc.; and see what develops.

I think it is decidedly a desirable trait.

Annie in Austin June 2, 2007, 10:03 pm

Kathy, the ‘odd’ Virginia Bluebell really is quite pretty. Wouldn’t it be fun if it does turn out to be a new hybrid?

Back in Illinois I also let large-leaved Hostas cover the shriveling Mertensia. They made good border partners.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

marci May 31, 2007, 11:14 am

They’re really quite nice. Definitely worth
trying to continue

Kathy Purdy May 30, 2007, 5:57 pm

ruralway–I have noticed dandelions like that in other years–or, rather, my kids notice them and bring them to me.

firefly–if they are happy there they will self-sow, gradually filling in the nooks and crannies. For looking so delicate, they are actually pretty easy.

Dave and Brigitte–glad you could stop by. Check out my blog directory for more Canadian garden blogs.

rualway May 30, 2007, 4:40 pm

I have noticed some very odd looking dandelions this year. Fused stems, oddly shaped flowers, larger than usual blossoms . We have at least 5 million of them here, and to notice some that were odd or different in such a sea of them didn’t take much effort-they really called my attention.

firefly May 29, 2007, 2:07 pm

Thank you for that tip on Virginia bluebells — I just got some as bareroot plants a couple weeks ago and was wondering where they would do best. I have a spot where there are three hostas and it has looked quite bare until now when they are finally starting to fill out. Spring bulbs don’t do well there because they don’t get enough sun through the summer to recharge.

Dave & Brigitte May 29, 2007, 9:22 am

Kathy, we found your site from the Cutline review article. We live up in Toronto so your site is great. We do have a small somewhat warmer micro climate in our yard but your site is great for us Northern gardening souls.

Ki May 27, 2007, 8:02 pm

Quite a beautiful mutation if indeed that’s what it is. I’ll have to look more closely at our Virginia Bluebells but I don’t think I’ve seen anything out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, I think most of our VBs aren’t blooming anymore especially since this warm spell arrived.

Kathy Purdy May 26, 2007, 7:40 pm

Virginia bluebells are good companions to plant with hostas. They bloom before the hostas really get going, and are completely dormant by the time the hostas are fully leafed out. Everyone (in the north, at least) that grows hostas should grow these plants as well.

Carol May 26, 2007, 6:59 pm

Kathy, maybe this is some kind of new variety or hybrid? I don’t know as I don’t have any Virginia Bluebells (and I should) to observe if this happens a lot or not. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful

Oldroses May 26, 2007, 3:10 pm

Sadly, there are no Virginia Bluebells in my immediate area. Maybe I should plant some! And when I do, I will look more closely at them. Fascinating post!