One of the most beautiful species of spring ephemerals are Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica). Perennial Ephemerals simply mean they appear in all their glory for several weeks and then disappear from sight to go underground and reappear next spring.
Virginia Bluebells are relatives of more familiar species -Lungworts, Comfrey, and Forget-Me-Nots – and are so easy to grow that I wonder why more people don’t plant them.
Bluebells enjoy rich, well-drained soils where they can form large colonies over time. And not that much time! I have colonies that are 5 years old and they are quite thick already. The flowers start off pink and gradually turn over to their fabulous shade of lilac light blue as they mature.
A native perennial that everyone should have, it thrives in shade, partial sun, or full sun in my garden – and in regular garden soil. They appreciate a little more moisture, but I have never watered them or babied them. Bees, especially female Bumblebees that fly in early spring, will often be seen visiting the flowers. Perching on the rim of the flower, the bees plunge into the trumpet shaped flower to gather nectar. Lasting for many weeks in early spring, April and May, Bluebells go dormant by early summer, totally disappearing – foliage and all. Because of that characteristic, you can plant annuals where the Bluebells have disappeared to get later summer color.
The clumps grow up to 2 feet tall and about a foot wide, but die back to the ground by early summer as the plant goes dormant shortly after flowering and setting seed. Beginner gardeners think that they killed the plant, only to be surprised the following year when the Bluebells emerge suddenly even more vigorously.