Mertensia virginica, Virginia Bluebell, Virginia Cowslip 

Tried and True Native Plant Selections for the Mid-Atlantic

Spring has finally sprung when the pink buds of Mertensia virginica show themselves in late winter and early spring, evolving from being coiled up like a scorpion’s tail to opening to deep pink or blue nodding flowers in drifts of woodland carpets. The Virginia Native Plant Society named Virginia Bluebell as Wildflower of the Year in 1989.

Print Version: Mertensia virginica, Virginia Bluebell, Virginia Cowslip 

Mertensia virginica, Virginia Bluebells, Virginia Cowslip  Perennial Height: 1–21⁄2 feet Bloom Color: Pink buds, turning to blue flowers Attributes Scorpioid Cymes, Nodding Cyme, En Masse Spread: 1–11⁄2 feet Characteristics Erect, clump-forming, ephemeral perennial Big, floppy, bluish-green leaves and fleshy stems Blooms March to April for about 3 weeks Pink/bluish/purplish buds arranged in a scorpioid cyme (coiled flower cluster with oldest flower at end of main stem) open to a showy, bell-shape and usually turn light blue as flowers mature Dormant in summer; foliage dies to the ground and does not reappear until the next spring Tolerates rabbits and Black Walnut; intolerant of waterlogged, winter soil; no serious pests or diseases; deer seldom severely damage Ethnobotanic uses Attracts honeybees and native bees, butterflies, Sphinx moths and hummingbirds; en masse plantings also provide cover for wildlife Growing and Maintenance Tips Soil Requirements: Rich, well-drained soil Light Requirements: Partial Shade, Shade Water Requirements: Moist, Wet Use at edge of woodland path or by a shaded pond or in borders, rain or rock gardens with later spreading perennials, like ferns, which will cover the void left when the bluebell foliage dies back Excellent Replacement for Hyacinthus species - Hyacinth Ornithogalum nutans - Nodding Star-of-Bethlehem Ornithogalum umbellatum - Sleepydick Ranunculus ficaria - Lesser Celandine *In the Mid-Atlantic Region, it is native in DC. In DE, it is uncommon in the Piedmont and rare in the Coastal Plain. In PA , it is mostly concentrated in pockets except in the north central counties where it is absent. In VA, it is locally common through the lower elevations of the mountains and in the Piedmont. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3–8
Learn more about other Mid-Atlantic plants: Tried and True Plant Fact Sheets