Mertensia virginica (L.) Pers. - Virginia Bluebells

Mertensia virginica plant

Family - Boraginaceae

Stems - To +60cm tall, erect to ascending, multiple from base or sometimes single, glabrous, herbaceous, branching near apex, green with some purple at base, with a loose pith, from a caudex.

Mertensia virginica stem

Leaves - Alternate, petiolate below, sessile above, glabrous. Petioles winged, to +/-8cm long. Lowest blades ovate, entire, rounded to slightly emarginate at apex, to 20cm long, +11cm broad, dull green above, silvery-green below. Upper leaves reduced and becoming bracts at the base of the peduncles near apex of stem.

Mertensia virginica leaves

Inflorescence - Lateral cymes, compact in flower, elongating in fruit, glabrous. Pedicels to 3mm long in flower, elongating in fruit to +1.2cm.

Flowers - Corolla bluish, salverform, to +3cm long, glabrous, tubular portion to +2cm long, expanded limb to -2cm broad. Stamens 5, adnate at base of expanded portion of corolla tube, included. Filaments to 5mm long, white, glabrous. Anthers bluish-tan when fresh, to +2mm long. Style bluish-white, glabrous, to +/-3cm long, filiform, included. Ovary superior, 2-lobed, with nectar ring at base, glabrous, light green. Calyx accrescent. Calyx tube to 9mm long, greenish-purple, glabrous. Calyx lobes lanceolate-ovate, entire, green, 4mm long, 2.1mm broad(in flower). Nutlets rugose, 4.

Mertensia virginica calyxCalyx.

Mertensia virginica flowersFlowers (front view) and my thumb.

Flowering - March - June.

Habitat - Moist rich woods, bottoms, low slopes.

Origin - Native to U.S.

Other info. - This striking plant is found nearly throughout Missouri but is probably absent from the extreme southwest corner of the state. The stems of the plant are subsucculent and nearly hollow so the plant is fragile. It grows well from seed and should be cultivated more. If left undisturbed, this species will thrive and form large colonies. Pink and white-flowered forms are mentioned by Steyermark and are rare in Missouri.

Photographs taken at Whetstone Creek Conservation Area, Callaway County, MO., 4-13-04.


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