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Virginia Bluebell: America’s Favorite Native Wildflower

| 3/12/2015 10:39:00 AM


America's favorite native wildflower is sound asleep right now, tucked in under a lovely white blanket of snow, my favorite mulch. But before you know it, the snow will melt, the ground will warm and tight little purplish-green buds of Mertensia virginica will be pushing their way skywards. Over the following week or two, these buds gently unfold into 12-inch to 24-inch medium green stems to reveal clusters of pinkish-blue, pendulous flower buds that burst open into the softest, pastel blue flowers. As the flowers age, they ever so slowly and magically morph into a subtle shade of light pink.

Please don't let the common name mislead you. "Virginia Bluebells" are native to just about the entire eastern half of the US and Canada, and there are 18 different species of Mertensia in the U.S. alone — Mertensia virginica being the most widely cultivated of the lot. These early Spring wildflowers will grow happily just about anywhere in the world.

Mertensia virginica is a member of the Boraginaceae (Borage) family and shares residence in that family with other popular genera such as Pulmonaria, Omphalodes, Symphytum, Myosotis etc. The genus name Mertensia is in honor of the German botanist Franz Karl Mertens (1764-1831).

Mertensia virginica is one of our earliest and easiest to grow Spring ephemeral wildflowers. Now, while they're still dormant and your ground is thawing, is a very good time to plant them to ensure that you will get a good bloom this Spring. Eventually we must part company with this lovely plant, but not until it sets a respectable quantity of seeds to assure that you will soon have a colony. They'll then fade away and fall back into a deep slumber until next Spring. I highly recommend Polystichum acrostichoides as a companion plant. Universally known as the "Christmas Fern", this versatile evergreen fern benefits from a "haircut" in early Spring, just before the emergence of the Mertensia. As the Mertensia is "bidding adieu", the Polystichum acrostichoides will be unfurling its new fronds and will quickly cover any bare spots left behind by the dormant Mertensia.

And, as if Mertensia virginica didn't have enough gold star attributes, it's NOT on Bambi's menu.

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