By Terry Keeling , Freelance Writer
Anytime you see the word “grandiflorurn” included in the scientific name of a flower, it should get your attention — the word indicates large blooms. This is certainly an accurate description of Texas bluebell (Eustoma grandiflorurn), sometimes called “lisianthus.” With its tulip-shaped blooms and its rich color (usually a deep blue to almost purple), bluebell is considered by many to be our state’s most beautiful wildflower. It is easy to see why that argument is a strong one.
Bluebell can be found growing over most of Texas (except the most arid areas). It likes fertile, prairie-type soil (you will not often find it growing in deep sand) and needs at least a moderate amount of moisture. It can tolerate wet conditions, but not standing water. This one is a great choice for coastal areas where drainage is less than perfect. It will be found growing on rolling hills, on the slopes and around the bottoms of the slopes.
Bluebell is an upright, clumping-type plant, usually reaching a height of around 1 to 2 feet — occasionally slightly taller. The native variety, Eustomia exaltalum, is a short-lived perennial lasting 3 to 7 years while the Japanese varities (Lisianthes) are annual. It will often form extensive colonies — never forming a continuous, tight sod — with space (usually about a foot) between the individual plants. The foliage is pale green (or sometimes almost a blue-green) and is not palatable to grazing animals. Accordingly, bluebell co-exists quite well with cattle– they seem to ignore it. In fact, it has been my observation that bluebell seems to do better in pastures than on abandoned and/or vacant land. It could be that this is because the cattle hold down the competing vegetation thus making it easier for the tiny, tiny bluebell seed to germinate and for the young seedlings to become established.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to regularly observe colonies of bluebell in the Grimes County area, all around Navasota, Anderson and Roans Prairie. Apparently, conditions are very favorable for bluebell — it appears to do extremely well here. Even so, there will be considerable variation from year to year, depending on conditions. Some years, those hills seem to be almost a solid sheet of gorgeous blue — other years, the flowers may be pretty sparse.
Although the bloom season will vary in different parts of the state, it generally begins in mid to late summer and continues into early fall– under ideal conditions, perhaps even a bit later.
In cultivation, bluebell can be very effective as a border plant, or in a grouping of several plants, as an accent. It will need at least half a day of sun, preferably a little more than that. It is not difficult to grow, as long as it has adequate moisture.
Bluebell is an excellent cut flower, with a vase life of seven to ten days. The large blossoms are a guaranteed attention-getter in an arrangement. The deep blue color blends well with many yellows or whites. On an individual bluebell stalk, it is not unusual to have fully opened mature blooms along with spent blossoms and unopened buds (they resemble unopened rosebuds). The spent blooms can easily be pinched off, to encourage more blooms.
Bluebells have long been cultivated and are available in the nursery trade, in both the natural blue and in other colors (white, pink, yellow). Bluebell seed is so tiny, it requires a great deal of care and attention to get the seed successfully germinated and to get the tiny seedlings established. You may decide you would rather just buy the rosettes from a nursery in the spring, rather than planting the seed.
Whichever route you choose to follow, once you get the plants established, they should require very little care, except to make sure they have adequate moisture. Under these conditions, you may be able to extend the bloom season– perhaps right up till frost, particularly if you regularly pinch off the spent blossoms.
In any case, I think you will agree the result will be well worth whatever effort you may have to put forth. Few flowers will look as beautiful — or as unique — as the native Texas bluebell.