Campanula rotundifolia, commonly known as Blue Harebell, are ethereal and whimsical, calling to mind Snow White skipping through a field plucking wildflowers for her posy. Paper-thin, small blue-violet bell-shaped flowers sit atop delicate stems, nodding and swaying in the breeze. Native to Wisconsin, Campanula rotundifolia is an easy-to-grow, hardy perennial that blooms in mid-summer to early autumn, providing bright pops of blue throughout the garden. Blue Harebell may also be known as Bellflower, Scotch Bellflower, or Witch’s Bells.
Although dainty in appearance, Blue Harebell is resilient. Once established, they are drought tolerant and are excellent plants for rock gardens, stone walls, semi-shaded slopes, and borders. They are at home in native, cottage, xeric gardens, and woodland edges with light shade.
Blue Harebell provides pollen and nectar for a variety of small- and medium-sized bees and flies. Leafcutter and Small Carpenter bees collect pollen on their abdomens, while Digger and Green Sweat bees opt for nectar. Mason and Long-Horned bees feed on both pollen and nectar, as do the Calligrapher fly, a type of hoverfly so named for the elaborate patterns on their bodies. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are attracted to the tubular flowers, zipping from bloom to bloom, collecting all the goodness that Blue Harebells offer.
Blue Harebell enjoys full sun or light shade and performs best in cold climates as they don’t like high temperatures. Loose and rich soil that drains well and is kept evenly moist will produce beautiful flowers. A 2” layer of bark mulch keeps roots cool, which helps prolong blooming. Removing spent flowers will encourage more buds and prevent seeding if spreading is not desired. In mid-spring, cutting back to just above the ground will encourage new growth.
No serious insect or disease problems, but slugs and snails may be occasional visitors. Aphids may visit, but the Calligrapher flies find aphid honeydew a treat.
The genus name Campanula is derived from the Latin campana meaning ‘bell’ alluding to the bell-shaped flowers. The specific epithet, rotundifolia, refers to the plant’s rounded basal leaves. The common name ‘harebell’ is believed to have come from the fact that the plant is sometimes found in areas home to hares/rabbits.
In days past, the Blue Harebell had many uses beyond solely beautifying the landscape. The Haida Indians of the Pacific Northwest called Blue Harebell “blue rain flowers” as it was thought that picking them would bring rain. In Europe, leaves were eaten raw for medicinal purposes while the Chippewa used the roots to make eardrops to soothe earaches. During medieval times, Blue Harebell was used to prevent nightmares, as well as to treat spider bites.
Digging into folklore revealed that Blue Harebells have quite the reputation, with ties to the magical and fantastical. Some believe that Blue Harebell, aka Witch’s Bells, was named because sorceresses used the flower juice to transform into hares, concealing themselves. Blue Harebells are said to be the favorite flower of woodland fairies. So very sweet — until its bells are rung, at which time the fae are summoned, stealing children, and leaving adults wandering in the woods for years on end. Yikes! And finally, a wreath of harebells placed around the neck of a beau is said to coerce the wearer to reveal their true feelings – good, bad, or otherwise!
With its smaller size, adaptability to full sun or part shade, and unique color, Blue Harebell has seemingly endless potential combinations. Tall, summer-blooming perennials such as Yarrow, Coralbells, Shasta Daisy, and Phlox complement each other and contrast nicely with the shorter, soft Blue Harebell. The blue-purple color of its blooms stands out against the white bark of birch trees or aspens. Pair Blue Harebell with Prairie Dropseed, Dwarf Fountain Grass, or ferns to soften walkways and edges.