Bellflower are annual, perennial, and biennial herbs that compose the genus Campanula (family Campanulaceae).
There are over 500 species of bellflowers.
Although the common name, bellflower, suggests tubular flowers, the size and shape of the blooms — as well as those species whose flowers in no way resemble a bell — gives some idea of the diversity of the genus.
They are found across the temperate and subtropical regions of the Northern Hemisphere, with the highest diversity in the Mediterranean region east to the Caucasus. The range also extends into mountains in tropical regions of Asia and Africa.
Bellflowers vary in size from dwarf arctic and alpine species under 5 centimeters (2 in) high, to large temperate grassland and woodland species growing to 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) tall.
The leaves are alternate and often vary in shape on a single plant, with larger, broader leaves at the base of the stem and smaller, narrower leaves higher up; the leaf margin may be either entire or serrated (sometimes both on the same plant). Many species contain white latex in the leaves and stems.
The flowers are produced in panicles (sometimes solitary), and have a five-lobed corolla, typically large (2 to 5 cm (0.8 to 2 in) or more long), mostly blue to purple, sometimes white or pink.
Below the corolla, 5 leaf-like sepals form the calyx. Some species have a small additional leaf-like growth termed an “appendage” between each sepal, and the presence or absence, relative size, and attitude of the appendage is often used to distinguish between closely related species.
The fruit is a capsule containing numerous small seeds.
Most of the garden-worthy choices are perennials, although there are some annuals and a biennial species.
Bellflowers need a good, moist, but well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter mixed in. It should be planted in full sun to partial shade.
As a houseplant bellflower can cope with an indoor climate.
Although many species grow beautifully as potted plants, most people prefer to give these flowers in traditional bouquets – sometimes on their own, but often mixed with other symbolic blossoms.
Bellflower is frequently given as a sort of “thank you” gift, as these blossoms are often thought to represent gratitude. They are also given as symbols of affection, as they are sometimes said to symbolize constancy and everlasting love, as well as humility and delicacy.
These flowers have some interesting legends associated with them. The most famous is story about Venus. Venus owned a magical mirror which reflected only beautiful images. When she lost this mirror, she sent Cupid to find it. Cupid dropped the looking glass and it shattered into a million pieces. True to its practice of making everything around it beautiful, the glass fell to the ground and sprouted stunning blue, bell-shaped flowers.
In northern Italy bellflower often forms a natural hanging carpet over rock formations. It’s reminiscent of Rapunzel’s hair, which hung so temptingly from her tower window in the Grimm fairy-tale. This may be why rampion is known in Dutch as the ‘Rapunzel bellflower’. The plant symbolises attractiveness and growing up.
It takes both its common and its scientific name from its bell-shaped flowers — campanula is Latin for “little bell.”