Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Virginia Bluebells - Mertensia virginica   (L.) Persoon ex Link
Members of Boraginaceae:
Only member of Mertensia in NC.
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Section 6 » Order Lamiales » Family Boraginaceae
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Author(L.) Persoon ex Link
DistributionScattered in the Mountains, the northern Piedmont, and along the Roanoke River in the northwestern Coastal Plain. There are numerous photos on iNaturalist from several additional counties, but as this species is at times planted in gardens and other sites, the editors do not feel comfortable that these represent natural locations; thus, these photo records are not incorporated into the map below.

This is a Mideastern species, with a range from NY and MN south to northern NC, central AL, and northern AR.
AbundanceRare to uncommon in the north-central Piedmont, near the VA line, mainly along or near the Dan River. Very rare to rare in the northern and central Mountains. Very rare along the Roanoke River, known from a few sites in Halifax and Bertie counites. This is a Watch List species, though it should be considered as W1 (rare but well known) as opposed to W7 (rare and poorly known).
HabitatIn the Piedmont and Coastal Plain, it grows in very rich alluvial soil (of high pH); most populations are found on natural levee hardwood forests, but a few are in rich bottomlands or along wooded stream margins (on rich soils). In the Mountains it occurs mainly on rich slopes of hardwood forests, over mafic rocks.
PhenologyBlooms from March to May, and it fruits, withers, and disappears by the end of May.
IdentificationThis is one of the state's most beautiful wildflowers, but sadly it is scarce, with few locations on protected sites. It is a smooth species, usually unbranched, with a succulent stem reaching about 1.5 feet tall, erect to ascending. It has alternate stem leaves, with ones near the base on long petioles and with a blade about 4-5 inches long and 3 inches wide, entire on the margins, and rounded at the tip. Upper stem leaves are sessile, but still widely elliptical and about 3-4 inches long. The top of the stem contains the flower cluster, usually consisting of 10-20 flowers on a few very short stalks. Each flower is trumpet-shaped, with a narrow corolla tube that flares outward near the apex; it is pink to purplish in bud, but become a bright blue in full bloom; it is about 1-inch long. The flowers tend to nod in bud and in full flower, but in either case, the bright azure blue color can be seen for long distances in the forest, especially as the species almost always grows in dense stands of a few dozen plants or more.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Virginia Cowslip
State RankS2
Global RankG5
State StatusW7 [W1]
US Status
USACE-agcpFAC link
USACE-empFACW link
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