Leonard and I always refer to Mertensia longiflora by the common name “bluebells”. Unfortunately, many other plant species are also known as bluebells. To avoid confusion, in this post I chose to use another colloquial name, trumpet bluebells. Of course, the only way to properly identify a species is by its scientific name, but so often I have difficulty remembering even the common name, let alone the genus and species.
These trumpet bluebells were photographed in May at the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada. We first found some trumpet bluebells at Fish Spring, however the flowers were withered and brown. Perhaps at a higher elevation the trumpet bluebells flowers would still be at their prime? We went to Yellow Peak and did find lovely, fresh blossoms.
Trumpet bluebells are perennial natives found at low to mid elevations in the Western United States. They grow in areas of abundant spring moisture and dry summers, frequently below sagebrush canopies or other sheltered sites.
A member of the Borage Family, trumpet bluebells send up one to several short, succulent stems from a tuberous root. The stems grow to approximately 8″ in height. The broad, elliptical leaves are bluish, leathery and rather succulent. The leaves are sessile (have no stalk) and also have no lateral veins.
The trumpet bluebells inflorescence is composed of crowded, drooping, five-petaled, trumpet-shaped flowers. Originally sky blue the petals fade to a pinkish color with age. The corolla tube is generally two or more times longer than the expanded bell-like mouth of the “trumpet”. The style is higher than the anthers.
The fruits of trumpet bluebells are nutlets.
Trumpet bluebells flowers and leaves can be eaten raw or the leaves can be cooked and eaten like a potherb. I find this spring wildflower too pretty to eat.
The genus name, Mertensia, honors the German botanist F.C. Mertens (1764 – 1831). Longiflora, the species name, is from Latin and means “long flower”.
To further add to the confusion, other common names for M. longiflora include low bluebell, long-flowered bluebells, small bluebells and trumpet lungwort, among others.