Virginia bluebells

Mertensia virginica (Virginia bluebells) is a member of the Boraginaceae and a terrific spring ephemeral for the garden, bringing spectacular color and much needed nectar for early spring pollinators. Virginia bluebells is native to eastern North America where the species inhabits moist woodlands and shaded clearings, and river bottomlands.

In cultivation, Virginia bluebells has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. In your garden, plant Virginia bluebells in shaded or partial-shade, moist soil areas.

Mertensia virginica completes its entire growth cycle by the close of spring–emerging quickly in the spring and going dormant before summer after completing short growth and reproductive phases. Leaves of Virginia¬†bluebells are gray-green, rounded, and growing up to 24 in. long. The next time you see M. virginica look closely at the plant’s leafy stems and you will notice petiolate leaves toward the bottom of each stem, while leaves are sessile at the top. Mertensia virginica flowers start as pinkish buds, transitioning to blue upon opening in mid-spring; flowers are borne on pendulate spiral-shaped cymes at the end of leafy stems.

Adding Virginia bluebells to your garden is a great way to provide nectar to local pollinators in the early spring. Bumblebees are often seen visiting flowers, but are uncommon pollinators since M. virginica flower position requires the bee to hover. Butterflies are a more common pollinator of Virginia bluebells since these insects can grasp the edges of flower petals as they explore (and pollinate) individual flowers.

Botanical Name Mertensia virginica
Common Name Virginia bluebells
Family Boraginaceae
USDA Zone 3 thru 8
Light Requirement Part Shade to Full Shade
Season(s) of interest Spring
Height and Spread
1.5-2ft x 1-1.5ft (45-60cm x 30-45cm)
Flower Color Pink to Blue
Attracts Wildlife Butterflies
Additional Information Native to Chicago Region
Location in Lurie Garden
North Dark Plate, Southwest Dark Plate, Southeast Dark Plate, East Dark Plate