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Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Tall Bellflower (American Bellflower)


Scientific Name
Campanula americana L.


Plant Family
Bellflower (Campanulaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Early Summer to Late Summer



Tall Bellflower can be either an annual or a biennial, and will successfully reseed itself. It is somewhat taller than the European Bellflower, growing up to 6 feet high, but more commonly in the range of 2 to 4 feet. The main stem is a bit hairy, is usually not branched, slightly angled, and contains a milky sap.

Leaves: Upper leaves are lance shaped narrowly tapered on each end. Lower leaves can be more egg to ovoid shaped tapered at the base to a stalk that is almost half as long as the leaf blade, and abruptly tapered at the top to a long pointed tip. The most upper leaves are stalkless. All leaves have toothed margins and are alternate on the stem. In size the larger lower leaves are up to 6 inches long - 3x as long as wide.

The inflorescence is a tall spike atop the stem or in less frequent cases, on a side stem rising from an upper leaf axil. Between the flowers on the spike are small green leafy bracts, the lower ones resembling small leaves, the upper ones merely thin and pointed.

The flowers are 5-part with a pale blue to violet bell-shaped flower corolla that separates into 5 lobes which appear satiny in sunlight and tend to have curly edges and visually open to a star shape. Each flower has a pale center nectar ring that surrounds a 5-angled, 3-celled ovary and in the center of the ring is a long curved light purple color protruding style with a 3-lobed stigma at the tip which curves upward. The five stamens rise within the ring from the base of the style. The anthers are yellow and form a spiral at maturity. The calyx is green, smooth, and its five long-pointed lobes reflex backward as the flower opens.

Seed: Mature flowers produce a 3-celled seed capsule shaped like a turban or slender top, that is erect, ribbed and opens by the valves at the top. Dispersion is simply by wind shaking the stem. Seeds are light, about 170,000 to the ounce.


Habitat: Tall Bellflower grows from a taproot in wet mesic to dry mesic woods and woodland edges where the soil is rich and sun is partial to light shade.

Names: The genus name Campanula is derived from the Latin campana, meaning 'little bell'. The species, americanum, is 'of America' to distinguish this species from the European variety. There is a move afoot to reclassify into the genus Campanulastrum, due to the difference in flower structure with those other plants in Campanula. Many references still place it in Campanula, including the Minnesota authorites at the University and the DNR. USDA has however, moved to the new class. Eventually one or the other will be decided upon, perhaps when Flora of North America weighs in. The author name for the plant classification originally was 'L.' which refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. In the new genus his work has been amended by 'Small', which refers to John Kunkel Small (1869-1938), American Botanist, first curator of the New York Botanical Garden, best known for Flora of the Southeastern United States.

Comparison: Tall Bellflower blooms in the Woodland Garden and on the back path to the Upland Garden, whereas the European Bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) blooms in the sunny Upland Garden. European Bellflower has a bell-shaped flower on one side of the stem, rather than the more open style of C. americana where the flowers surround the stem. In the Upland Garden will also be found Clustered Bellflower, C. glomerata, where the flowers are clustered together at the stem, have longer sepals and do not nod. Two smaller species also have similar bell-shaped flowers but the plants have a much different structure : Harebell, C. rotundifolia, and Marsh Bellflower, C. aparinoides. Comparison photo shown below.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Tall Bellflower drawing

Above: The flower corolla separates into 5 lobes which appear satiny and tend to have curly edges and visually is a star shape. Each flower has a pale center ring and in the center of the ring is a long curved light purple color protruding style. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.

Below: The developing flower buds appear in the leaf axils on the upper part of the stem. These leaves remain small when the flowers open.

Tall Bellflower Tall Bellflower

Below: 1st photo - Note the fringes on the tips of the petals, the spiral form of the mature yellow anthers, the 5-part ovary in the center and the reflexed green sepals noticeable on the flower on the left. 2nd photo - The lance-shape leaves are stalked with a slight wing on the petiole. Lower leaves may be more egg shape as the photo shows.

Flower corolla Tall Bellflower leaf

Below: A comparison of the five Bellflowers found in the Garden.

Bellflower comparison


Notes: Eloise Butler's records show that she introduced this plant to the Garden in 1907 and 1908 and planted seeds of this species on Oct. 29, 1914. It is listed on Martha Crone's 1951 census of plants in the Garden. In the wild it is considered native to Minnesota in the counties bordering the Minnesota River and several other counties bordering the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers in the SE. In North America, its range is the eastern half of the U.S. and Ontario in Canada.

There are five species of Campanula found in Minnesota, two of which are introduced: C. americana, Tall Bellflower; C. aparinoides, Marsh Bellflower; C. rotundifolia, Harebell; C. cervicaria, Bristly bluebells; and C. rapunculoides, European Bellflower. The latter two are the introductions. Clustered Bellflower, C. glomerata, an introduction not found in Minnesota outside of gardens, also grows in the Garden.

Former Curator Martha Crone wrote in The Fringed Gentian™ of July 1955 of "When the spring flowers have faded and before the summer flowers have come into bloom, when there is little variety in the woodland where shadows are deepest, it is then that the Tall Blue Bellflower is the most conspicuous. It is an annual and has proven quite equal to reproducing itself year after year."

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.