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Creeping Bellflower

Creeping Bellflower; Campanula rapunculoides L.
Bellflower Family; CAMPANULACEÆ

    "Garden Flower Run Amok" is this weed's headline, with a secondary explanation "Devours Landscape Ruthlessly," finished by a plaintive "People Helpless." By sight alone at least, likely you know the lovely bellflower or Campanula clan, comprising 250 species, many of them grown for decoration. Except for a rare native woodland inhabitant (C. Scouleri), only five bellflowers are found wild or weedy in Seattle, and Creeping Bellflower is the hellcat among them.
    Its bell-shaped flowers are deep lavender to dark bluish-purple, 11/2 inches wide at their star-like mouths of five narrow segments. The gently nodding flowers blossom from the bottom up the slender flowerstems, beginning in June, lasting into August; in some places flowering specimens can be seen into November. The pretty color, pleasing proportions and generous abundance of blossoms have earned this bellflower affection in the hearts of many gardeners.
    Add to beauty, an unbeatable ease of reproduction, plus spartan hardiness, and the result is a very common plant. Like bluebells and comfrey, the Creeping Bellflower stays put wherever it gets a toehold: it simply doesn't die. Unlike comfrey, it not only possesses a wondrous ability to grow from the merest root fragments, but reseeds devilishly. And it thrives in cracks and holes too tight to allow stouter weeds such as comfrey. Creeping Bellflower is thus easily found in alleys, and at the bases of buildings where pavement meets walls. If it has a weakness I am unaware of it. That slugs leave their silvery slime on its foliage is hardly cause for complaint. It is thirsty, and in dry conditions in slower and less lovely.
    The leaf color is ordinary green, the texture dull and raspy, and size varies from four-inch, long-stalked leaves by the ground in violet-like fashion, to progressively smaller, bract-like ones on the flowerstems. The leaf underside is somewhat pale and glossy. The flavor is utterly bland, but some Europeans eat the leaves anyway. Europe is the homeland of this plant.
    Large white storage roots are deep in the ground, some measuring eighteen inches long and close to an inch thick. These roots are a major starch source, and also are edible (weakly flavored and chewy). They, unlike the flower-stems, do not exude whitish juice when broken. When you pull up a Creeping Bellflower you only yank its smallish surface roots: the mother lode of giant roots stays snug in its earthly depths.
    Without haste, without rest, this bellflower creeps beneath ground and subtly takes over. Deep shade and severe dryness, especially in combination, slow it, but do not stop it. Seattle has entire alley stretches of its waving wands of purplish bells, and gardens choked by hundreds of flower-stems. Even some poor lawns are infested with it. What a pest.
    At the Tilth Weed Patch (recently quite spruced up), it's been confined to a container in an attempt to restrain its roving tendencies. Like dogs on leashes, Sheep Sorrel, Wild Morning Glory and Creeping Buttercup are the only other weeds that have been subjected to this confinement.
    I grow Creeping Bellflower because the flowers are tasty and I occasionally eat the roots when digging up a bed they've overrun; they are doubtless nutritious even though devoid of flavor. The leaf stalk fibrous cores of the ground-layer leaves make superb garden ties, supple and strong, a joy to tie with. So, a useful curse it is, and beautiful. Its beauty deceives those people who think nothing so lovely could be so weedy.

    Originally published as the Seattle Tilth newsletter Weed of the Month in June 1992, along with an illustration from a book.

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Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert
Arthur Lee Jacobson plant expert

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