Photo by Melody

Scottish Bluebells: Age-old Blooms and Old-time Lore

By Jacqueline Cross (libelluleApril 10, 2013

These lovely flowers have been around for centuries. Legend has it that fairies live among them and humans should be wary of disturbing them.

Gardening picture

(Editor's Note: This artice was originally published on September 21, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)

(Bluebells (Campanula rotundifolia) have been called by various names, many having one common thread which, if pulled, leads to the folklore responsible for these names. It is widely known as Harebell. This is the name I know it as and prefer to call it by. For this reason, I will refer to the Scottish Bluebell as Harebell in the following paragraphs.

Campanula rotundifolia

Photo courtesy of
Dave's Garden
member, Grasmussen

The name, Harebell, has its roots in magic. The name came from the fact that Scottish Bluebells are found growing in meadows frequented by hares. Some would argue, the name Harebell was given this flower due to the fact that witches were known to turn themselves into hares and hide among them. Both are interesting stories, one for the non-believer and believer alike.

It is also called simply Bellflower, but there are many flowers referred to as bellflowers by gardeners. This can be quite confusing when one is trying to identify a plant. This is my least favorite common name for the Scottish Bellflower.

Another name that caught my attention a few years back is Fairies' Thimbles. It is widely thought that fairies live among the flowers and it stands to reason, this plant would have at least one common name reflecting this belief.

Heath bell is a name given to the Harebell because they are often found growing alongside heath in the wild.

A bit more ominous name given to this plant is, Dead Man's Bells. No doubt, rising from the belief that fairies cast spells on those who dare to trample on or pick the delicate blooms. More than likely, this legend came from plant enthusiasts who knew trampling the flowers one year would cause the stand to be thinner the following year.

Campanula rotundifolia

Photo courtesy of
Dave's Garden
member, Grasmussen

The Harebell has been recognized by many for its beauty, including being a favorite of poets for centuries.

Sir Walter Scott mentioned it in his 1810 poem, "Lady of the Lake;" "A foot more light, a step more true, Ne'er from the heath-flower dashed the dew; E'en the slight harebell raised its head..."

Emily Bronte wrote, "I lingered round them, under the benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth." in her book, "Wuthering Heights," published in 1847. Countless other authors have felt compelled to include the Harebell in their writings as well.

Interesting research has been done concerning the Harebell.

  • "The Scottish Biodiversity List Project" confirmed the Harebell to
    be a favorite of the citizens of Scotland. Scott Wilson surveyed citizens with the intention of identifying a list of flora, fauna and habitats important to the country; conservation and diversity being most important.[1]  In this survey, the Harebell or Scottish bluebell landed at number three on the top ten list.

  • "The Harebell Hunt" (2005) was conducted by volunteers in Europe for Plantlife International; The Wild Plant Conservation Charity. Since the research was done by volunteers, many of them children, it was not only a simple task of gathering information but also a lesson in conservation. [2]

Campanula rotundifolia

Photo courtesy of
Dave's Garden member,

On the rocky shores and hillsides, in meadows and open woods of Northern Europe, Harebells have nodded with the breeze for centuries. They can also be found scattered among other wild flowers in meadows across North America.

Growing Harebells in your own garden is so easy; you will wonder why it took you so long to discover them.

Campanula rotundifolia are not very picky. A perennial, they can be grown in zones 3-9. Grow them from seed or by dividing rhizomes. If grown from seed, sow outdoors in the fall. The plant can also be dug and separated in the fall. Grow in full sun to partial shade, water regularly until established and then less often will be fine.

Campanula rotundifolia

Photo courtesy of
Dave's Garden member,

These make wonderful additions to a meadow garden and will spread prolifically if left to do so. While the plant is young, keep weeds pulled. It does not like to compete with other plants as a seedling however, once it is a bit bigger it will be able to hold its own with a few weeds and meadow grasses.

Paper thin blooms appear from late spring to early fall atop slender stems that can reach to twelve inches tall. They are blue, white, pink and purple. Blue is the color most people associate with the legendary Harebell. It is also the one said to be unlucky, while white blooms are said to bring luck. Pink and purple are not as prevalent in nature but can often be found in home gardens.

Campanula rotundifolia

Photo courtesy of
Dave's Garden member,

Remember, do not traipse through a stand of Harebells lest you conjure up a swarm of angry fairies and release the spells trapped in the bells. Instead, keep to the path between the blooms.




Happy Gardening

[1]The Scottish Biodiversity List

[2]The Harebell Hunt

Photo at top right, courtesy of Dave's Garden member, bootandall.

For more bell shaped flowers, see this article.



  About Jacqueline Cross  
Jacqueline CrossI'm a native Floridian...feet planted in the shifting sands of northwest FL. but my heart strings are tightly knotted to the hills of Tennessee. I live with my poodle, Minnie Pearl, Zsa Zsa the cat who runs the whole show and a new addition, Kitty Belle. I'm a writer, gardener, quilter, cross stitcher, soapmaker and nature lover. Mother to 3 wonderful daughters & Nana to 6 perfect grandchildren. I also write for and was promoted to Feature Writer in the vegetable gardens section in 2008.

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