Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Scottish bluebell, but not the British or American bluebell

Species name: Campanula x hybrida

Common name: Bellflower, bluebell (although not truly a bluebell at all!)

Location: Ontario

You'll notice this plant has no species status diagram! Since I have no idea what species went into making this hybrid (I have some guesses, but I'm not positive on any of them), I can't say for sure where in the world the genetic base of this hybrid is from, so I'm not going to tarnish its reputation. Many ornamental species of bellflower are from North America, and many of them are from Europe and western Asia. A few are even from temperate Africa. There are a couple species in the genus Campanula that are invasives in North America (some declared invasive more recently than others), while others are critically endangered. I'm sure that a more thorough genetic exploration of this group will reveal that it's actually not one genus at all but many, since the morphological variation in the group is quite drastic. If you're really observant, you'll notice that the bellflowers and the moss phlox are competing for space in this particular location in the garden!

One of the most impressive features of this plant is the morphological variation that occurs on the same plant. While this is not unique by any means in the plant world, this is one of the most common garden plants that displays drastic morphological variation of plant features all on the same individual. The leaves at the base of the stem, sometimes arranged in a basal rosette but more often extending vertically up the stem are broad, sometimes heart shaped and sometimes arrow-head shaped, with a wavy margin (but sometimes smooth). As you get further up the stem, the leaves become more grass-like: long and very, very thin. Once the individual plant is in flower, the large leaves at the base of the plant wither and die, leaving only the small needle-like leaves along the stem. I'm not entirely sure why a plant would do this; it seems counterintuitive since the largest leaves at the bottom would be best able to make fuel for seed production.

While working on an identification for this plant, I stumbled on a fascinating website of flower photography. A man named Brian Johnston has taken a series of photos of many different species of plants in flower, and documented their flowering cycle from the first appearance of a flower bud all the way through to seed set. If you're interested in browsing through the photos, please click HERE and then click on "Flowers" at the top of the page in the grey toolbar (2 links to the right of the yellow "Share" link) and then choose your flower. The photos are absolutely stunning!