Mertensia virginica

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Virginia bluebells
Mertensia virginica.bbg.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Boraginales
Family: Boraginaceae
Genus: Mertensia
M. virginica
Binomial name
Mertensia virginica
(L.) Pers. ex Link, 1829

Mertensia virginica (common names Virginia bluebells,[1] Virginia cowslip, lungwort oysterleaf, Roanoke bells) is a spring ephemeral plant with bell-shaped sky-blue flowers, native to eastern North America.


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

Flowerbuds are pink. Flowers have five petals fused into a tube, five stamens, and a central pistil (carpel). They are borne in mid-spring in nodding spiral-shaped cymes at the end of arched stems. Flowers are usually blue, but white or pink 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[citation needed]. 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.

Plants are hardy to hardiness zone 3: −40 °C (−40 °F).

In cultivation, M. virginica has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[2][3]


Mertensia virginica is the type species for the genus Mertensia and was first described by Linnaeus in 1753 as Pulmonaria virginica.[4] The genus Pulmonaria is today restricted to 19 species in the tribe Boragineae. When Albrecht Wilhelm Roth erected the genus Mertensia in 1797, he named the Virginia bluebell as Mertensia pulmonarioides, apparently unaware that Linnaeus had already named it in his Species Plantarum. Roth's name is a superfluous synonym and has been used in recent literature.[5]


  1. ^ "Mertensia virginica". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
  2. ^ "RHS Plant Selector - Mertensia virginica". Retrieved 24 May 2013.
  3. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 64. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  4. ^ Carl von Linné (Linnaeus). 1753. Species Plantarum 1:135. (see External links below)
  5. ^ James S. Pringle. 2004. "Nomenclature of the Virginia-bluebell, Mertensia virginica (Boraginaceae)". SIDA, contributions to botany 21(2):771-775.(see External links below)

External links[edit]