Monday, September 17, 2012

The creepy, sneaky bellflower

Species name: Campanula rapunculoides

Common name: Creeping bellflower

Location: Ontario

The creeping bellflower is a species of herbaceous plant native to Europe and western Siberia. It was introduced to North America about a century ago, and it has become highly invasive since then. It is a ground cover plant (or growing upwards to a maximum height of about 12 inches) until it encounters something upright (either living or an inanimate object, although it prefers other plants), and then it climbs upwards to grow on top of the surface of the other plant (or up a fencepost, etc.). The leaves and flowers can become so dense that it will completely strangle out the next nearest plant, so is a huge threat in prairie ecosystems. The plant spreads during the growing season via underground rhizomes, and overwinters just under the soil surface. Any piece of the underground stems and roots can grow into new plants, so it becomes incredibly difficult to eradicate; if you have it in your garden, as soon as you till the ground in the spring you make hundreds of potential plants from one former rootstock.

This species was probably accidentally introduced to North America due to confusion with one of its very close relatives, and the species from which the creeping bellflower gets its name, Campanula rapunculus. This second species has been used for many centuries as a food source in Europe, as the leaves can be used in much the same way as spinach. They taste roughly the same, and cook down to a wilted leaf in much the same way as well. To my knowledge, the creeping flower is not edible.