This easy-to-grow biennial wildflower is a showy yet elegant choice for mid- to late-summer color. Its star-shaped, violet-blue flowers with pale centers bloom on long spikes up to 6 feet tall. The plant prefers part or full shade, in consistently moist, well-drained soils; however, it may still grow in dry shade, but with shorter height and fewer blooms. While average height tends to be around 2 to 4 feet, plants in full sun and fertile soil tend to grow more vigorously. Tall bellflower flourishes in slightly disturbed areas, and it tolerates clay, rocky, and sandy soils with good drainage. In its first year, the plant produces a basal rosette of heart-shaped leaves. The following summer, long stems lined with lance-shaped, green leaves and purplish blooms arise from the rosette. The flat, satiny “petals” are actually lobes of the corolla rather than actual petals. Each flower is short lived, but new flowers continue to bloom successively in loose colonies higher up the spikes, which are irresistible to pollinators and hummingbirds. Tall bellflower is suitable for use under black walnut trees, as it tolerates both juglone and shade. It also tolerates occasional drought and poor soils.
Native to most of the eastern half of the US, tall bellflower is highly preferable to the popular creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides), a European import commonly found in American garden centers. Unlike its European counterpart, C. americana (also known as American bellflower) doesn’t spread rampantly by underground runners. It spreads reliably but non-aggressively by self-seeding, making it a good choice for woodland gardens and naturalized areas. The flowers of tall bellflower wrap around the stem, whereas the bell-shaped flowers of creeping bellflower line one side of the stem. Once classified in the genus Campanula, tall bellflower has been reclassified into the genus Campanulastrum because its widespread lobes don’t resemble the bell-shaped flowers representative of plants in the Campanula genus. Campanulastrum refers to the differently shaped flowers and to the spongy nectar ring at the base of the corolla.
Tall bellflower has a long history of both medicinal and culinary uses. It’s known for treating a wide range of ailments, from respiratory issues to digestive problems. It contains expectorant properties and is often used for colds and bronchitis. It’s also been used for promoting wound healing and reducing inflammation, and it has astringent properties to help the digestive tract. It’s currently being studied to determine its ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.Tall bellflower is not commonly consumed and should be carefully identified and researched before being eaten. The leaves, flowers, and roots have a mild and slightly sweet flavor. The leaves and flowers can be used in salads, soups, stews, or as cooked vegetables, and the roots may be eaten as a starchy root vegetable.
Native habitats include woodland edges; moist, open woods; thickets; moist meadows; stream banks; and ditches. Use massed or in groups for naturalizing and in moist, shady areas.
Grows 3-6’ tall and 1-2’ wide.
Prefers part to full shade, but can tolerate full sun with consistent moisture..
Grows in average to moist, well-drained soils, including clay, loam, and sand.
Purplish flowers with 5 wavy-edged lobes bloom July-September. Whitish center nectar ring surrounds an ovary and a long, purple style tipped with a 3-lobed stigma. Calyx is smooth and green with 5 lobes that curve outward. Green, leafy bracts lie between the flowers. Three-celled, turban-shaped capsules release seeds when shaken by the wind.
Lance-shaped, alternate upper leaves have serrated margins and are usually stalkless. Egg-shaped lower leaves have serrated margins and are up to 6” long.
Slightly hairy, ridged stem is usually unbranched and contains a milky sap.
Host plant for 5 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including dark-spotted palthis, greater black-letter dart, and specialist pink-washed looper moth. Long-tongued bees, including leafcutting, bumble, and specialists Megachile campanulae and Colletes brevicornis, are the primary pollinators. Other pollinators include halictid bees, wasps, butterflies, and skippers.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Native Americans used the plant to treat coughs and respiratory issues. For coughs, steep a handful of fresh or dried leaves and flowers in hot water for 15 minutes. Strain and drink. For diarrhea and cramps, chop or grate the roots and steep them in hot water for 15 minutes. Strain and drink.
Caution: Some bellflower species are somewhat toxic, so use caution when identifying tall bellflower.
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