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Overview

Comprehensive Description

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It is easy to see why Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) is a favorite woodland wildflower. The pastel colors of the flowers and foliage are soft and soothing. There are other Mertensia spp. in the United States with a similar appearance, but they occur north or west of Illinois. They usually have smaller flowers and/or pubescent foliage.
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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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Description

This native perennial plant is 1–2½' tall, branching occasionally. The central stem is terete, hairless, and usually light green (less often purplish green or purple). The alternate leaves are up to 7" long and 3½" across. They are light green or greyish green and hairless with a soft floppy texture. The leaves are ovate-oval or ovate-oblong in shape, smooth (entire) along their margins, and pinnately veined. The leaves usually taper to winged petioles up to 2½" long, although some of the upper leaves are sessile. The upper stems terminate in nodding cymes of flowers. Individual flowers are about ¾–1¼" in length. The corolla of each flower is tubular at its base, but it is more bell-shaped (campanulate) toward its outer rim, where there are 5 shallow lobes that are barely discernible. Inserted within the corolla, there are 5 white stamens with light brown anthers and a white style that is long and slender. The small greyish green calyx of each flower is about ¼" (6 mm.) long; it is divided into 5 elliptic teeth. The flower buds are pink, bluish pink, or purple, while the corollas of mature flowers are light blue (rarely white or pink). The pedicels of the flowers are greyish green to purple, terete, and up to ¼" (6 mm.) long. The blooming period occurs from mid- to late spring, lasting about 3 weeks. Afterwards, the flowers are replaced by 4-lobed fruits (schizocarps), which contain the nutlets (4 nutlets per flower). The small nutlets are dark brown, ovoid, and flattened on one side; their surfaces are minutely wrinkled or pitted. The root system consists of a taproot. This plant often forms colonies.
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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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Distribution

National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

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Ecology

Associations

Faunal Associations

The flowers are cross-pollinated by long-tongued bees primarily, including honeybees, bumblebees, Anthophorid bees (Anthophora spp., Synhalonia spp.), and mason bees (Osmia spp.); these insects obtain nectar and/or collect pollen. Other visitors of the flowers include the Giant Bee Fly (Bombylius major), butterflies, skippers, and Sphinx moths, including a hummingbird moth (Hemaris thysbe). This group of visitors suck nectar from the flowers. Halictid bees and Syrphid flies sometimes visit the flowers, but they are too small in size to be effective pollinators. In some areas, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird has been observed to visit the flowers. White-Tailed Deer browse on the foliage occasionally during the spring. When this plant forms large colonies, it provides protective cover for many kinds of wildlife during the spring. Photographic Location
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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Flower-Visiting Insects and Birds of Virginia Bluebells in Illinois

Mertensia virginica (Virginia Bluebells)
(Hummingbirds & most insects suck nectar; some bees collect pollen as indicated below; some flies feed on pollen as indicated below; all observations are from Robertson)

Birds
Trochilidae: Archilochus colubris sn

Bees (long-tongued)
Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera cp; Apidae (Bombini): Bombus auricomus sn, Bombus bimaculatus sn, Bombus griseocallis sn, Bombus pensylvanica sn fq, Bombus vagans sn; Anthophoridae (Anthophorini): Anthophora abrupta sn, Anthophora ursina sn fq; Anthophoridae (Eucerini): Synhalonia belfragii sn cp fq, Synhalonia dubitata sn fq, Synhalonia speciosa sn fq icp; Anthophoridae (Nomadini): Nomada dentariae sn; Megachilidae (Osmiini): Osmia atriventris sn cp, Osmia lignaria lignaria sn, Osmia pumila sn cp

Bees (short-tongued)
Halictidae (Halictinae): Augochlorella striata sn np, Lasioglossum versatus sn np

Flies
Syrphidae: Rhingia nasica sn fp, Teuchocnemis lituratus fp np; Bombyliidae: Bombylius major sn

Butterflies
Nymphalidae: Danaus plexippus sn, Vanessa atalanta sn; Papilionidae: Papilio troilus sn

Skippers
Hesperiidae: Erynnis juvenalis sn

Moths
Sphingidae: Hemaris thysbe sn, Hyles lineata sn

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Mertensia virginica

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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© Barcode of Life Data Systems

Source: Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD)

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Mertensia virginica

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Source: Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD)

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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N3 - Vulnerable

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Cultivation

The preference is light shade to partial sun in moist areas with rich loamy soil. This plant develops very quickly during the spring after danger of hard frost has passed. Its foliage dies down by mid-summer. Range & Habitat
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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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Wikipedia

Mertensia virginica

Mertensia virginica (common names Virginia bluebell, Virginia cowslip, lungwort oysterleaf, Roanoke bells) is a species of flowering plant in the family Boraginaceae, native to moist woodland in eastern North America. It is a spring ephemeral plant with bell-shaped sky-blue flowers opening from pink buds. The leaves are rounded and gray-green, borne on stems up to 60 cm (24 in) tall. They are petiolate at the bottom of the flower stem and sessile at the top.

Flowers with five petals fused into a tube, five stamens, and a central pistil (carpel) are borne in mid-spring in nodding cymes at the end of arched stems. White 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. 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.[1]

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