Plant of the Week
Short-styled Bluebell (Mertensia brevistyla)
By Teresa Prendusi
This member of the Borage Family (Boraginaceae) is one of the more diminutive examples of the “bluebells,” the genus Mertensia. It does not have the long corolla or nodding habit typically associated with most members of this genus. Nor does it have the yellow center found in the genus Myosotis, the “Forget-me-nots,” which it also resembles.
The Short-styled bluebell has unforgettable sky-blue flowers forming small shallow cups that are a gathered in a congested inflorescence at the top of the plant. The term “brevistyla” refers to the style that is shorter than the calyx lobes. It grows from 4 to 16 inches tall, single or many stemmed from a fleshy short taproot. The narrowly linear-oblong leaves are glabrous underneath and strigose (rigidly appressed hairs) on the upper surface. These flattened hairs point away from the mid-vein of the leaf, a key characteristic of this species.
The genus Mertensia is primarily found in western North America and parts of Eurasia and has about 35 to 40 species. It is named in honor of the German plant botanist, Franz Carl Mertens.
Mertensia brevistyla is found in open to lightly wooded areas and dry meadows in elevations up to 3000 meters in the mountains of the interior West in early springtime. It is common in the Wasatch and Uinta mountains of Utah. It can also be found in the southeast portions of Idaho, and scattered along southern Wyoming and western Colorado from April to June.