Dalmatian Bellflowers

How Campanula Relates to Rampion, Rapunzel

Campanula portenschlagiana (image) is one of several plants called bellflowers. It is floriferous.
Campanula portenschlagiana is one of the "bellflowers.". David Beaulieu

Botanical and Common Names

Botanists know Dalmatian bellflowers as Campanula portenschlagiana. The first part of the common name refers to the area of Europe to which the plants are indigenous. Dalmatia is an old name for Croatia (formerly part of Yugoslavia). The second part of the name derives from the shape of the flowers of some species of Campanula (for example, C. medium, commonly known as Canterbury bells).

Botanical Classification

Dalmatian bellflowers are perennials. Typically listed as herbaceous plants, I find that they essentially function as evergreens even here in zone 5, where they stay green for me all winter. The old leaves begin to brown in spring, just as the new leaves are coming along to replace them. As soon as this new growth appears, I begin removing the browning leaves, just to keep the plant tidy.

Attributes of Dalmatian Bellflowers

These perennials attain a height of only about 6 inches if allowed to spread out over the ground (see below under Uses in Landscaping), with a width that can be up to three times that. Leaves are small and toothed.

Flowers are tubular, numerous, and bluish-purple in color. This long-blooming perennial starts blooming for me in early June, and it continues to produce flowers through September. I grow mine in full sun and find that it looks its best in June, before the summer heat has had time to ravage it; this problem could be alleviated by furnishing it with a bit of shade.

Growing Zones and Sun and Soil Preferences

Suited to growing zones 4-7, Dalmatian bellflowers should be planted in full sun to partial shade. Select a site that drains well. Provide plants with adequate water during dry spells, as this is a perennial that enjoys moderately moist soil.

Other Types of Bellflowers

Don't confuse Dalmatian bellflowers with other plants that have "bell" in their names; for example, Virginia bluebells and Spanish bluebells.

Continuing the bell theme, Campanula portenschlagiana is also sometimes called "wall harebell."

Care

Propagation and/or rejuvenation is an easy matter of dividing the plants (in fall or in early spring). Among the pests that can damage Dalmatian bellflowers are slugs, so be sure to read my control tips in my review of a book on how to kill slugs. If blooming tapers as the summer progresses, sheer your plants to induce additional flowering.

Uses in Landscaping

With its weak stems and ability to spread via rhizomes, the most natural use of this perennial is as a ground cover, in which capacity it can be employed, for example, in rock gardens, as an edging plant, or atop stone walls, over which it can spill for optimal effect. Or install the plants along the rim of a container garden and let them cascade down over the sides. I personally prefer the look of this plant hanging down over something, rather than just trailing along the ground.

Alternatively, if you do not wish to treat them as a ground cover and want them to attain a greater height, you will have to provide support (a peony ring would work here).

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let Down Your Hair

Campanula is a large genus that includes a plant with which -- while it's no household name -- you may be indirectly familiar thanks to one of the better-known Grimm's Fairy Tales.

Anyone read to as a child out of this volume remembers the famous injunction, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!" Others may have heard of Rapunzel and her storied locks via a "Fractured Fairy Tales" segment on the old Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. You may not recall much about the plant featured in the story, though, so let's review.

The tale begins with a woman fixated upon her neighbor's garden, specifically, "a bed which was planted with the most beautiful rampion (rapunzel)." She craved it so much that she had her husband execute multiple thefts upon the rampion patch. The rampion, however, did not belong to any ordinary neighbor. No, this neighbor was a witch. And when the witch discovered the thefts, she imposed a steep penalty upon the couple: they would have to hand over their first-born child as payment.

That child turned out to be -- you guessed it -- Rapunzel, she of the proverbially long hair.

The rampion of this fairy tale was a plant related to Dalmation bellflower: namely, Campanula rapunculus. According to Botanical.com, "The name Rampion is derived from its Latin specific name, Rapunculus, a diminutive of rapa (a turnip)." The name of the unfortunate child, Rapunzel, derives from the same term. The root of rampion was cooked and eaten as one would a turnip or radish; the above-ground vegetation was eaten in salads.

Need more ideas? Browse the photos in the following gallery:

Flowering Ground Covers