Plant of the Week
Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia L.)
By Patricia J. Ruta McGhan
Harebell, often called “bluebell”, is a flower found around the world in the Northern Hemisphere but most often, associated with Scotland. Harebell has many common names including bellflower, lady's thimble, witch's thimble, heathbells, fairies’ thimbles, and dead men’s bells.
Harebell grows in a variety of habitats ranging from full sun to shade; dry to moderate moisture; woods, meadows, cliffs, and beaches; in sandy, gravely soil. It can be found at elevations up to 12,000 feet in the Western United States.
Harebell flowers in the summer and fall. Its stem leaves are narrow and grass like, but the basal leaves are rather round, hence the specific name rotundifolia. The narrow, wiry stem averages about a foot tall, while the thin, papery flowers are usually about an inch long. The plant has a milky sap when the stem or leaves are broken. The plants are much hardier than they look.
Bees primarily pollinate harebell although it is capable of self-fertilization. Harebell seeds are extremely small, but can be collected for propagation and then sown directly on the soil in the spring. Clumps of harebell can also be divided in either spring or fall.
Harebell was formerly used in the manufacture of blue dye for tartans and is the symbol of the MacDonald clan. The common name of harebell alludes to the folk beliefs that it either grew in places frequented by hares or that witches used juices squeezed from this flower to transform themselves into hares. The Haida Indians of the Pacific Northwest called them "blue rain flowers" and it was thought that picking them would cause it to rain. In Europe the leaves are sometimes eaten raw in salad and the plant is thought to have minor medicinal qualities.