Saturday, April 14, 2012

Not Yet Native of the Week: Alpine Bells

Cortusa matthioli var. sachalinensis - Alpine Bells
Another April week, another snowstorm, so no bugs about and no flowers to brighten up the browns and white of 'Spring'. So time for another exotic from springs past:  Alpine Bells. We grew these from seeds from the Devonian Botanical Garden started in 2009. The first year we got just interesting leaves, but from 2010 on we have been rewarded with delicate drooping pink umbels of flowers.
Alpine Bells - delicate and delightful
One advantage of starting from seeds is a high probability of having diverse enough genotypes to allow outcrossing. That can also be a problem if the plants are weedy, but we've seen no sign of spread and the USDA has no listing for the genus, let alone the species, so there is no sign of these small, low-growing Eurasian plants being weeds in North America.
Alpine Bells in a mixed native-alien shade bed
Actually, I'm a bit worried that the Alpine Bells will be outcompeted by the larger plants that share its shady bed. The native Aralia nudicalis (Wild Sarsaparilla), the dark red-brown shoot above for example, will spread over the Alpine Bells later in the spring. However, so far, so good and all are coexisting.
Leaves of Alpine Bells
So, if the snows ever stop and the temperatures climb up towards 'normal', perhaps in three or four weeks the leaves of Alpine Bells will be poking up for their share of the light. Beware of imitators, though. Our plants appear to be Cortusa matthioli var. sachalinensis (Losinsk.) T.Yamaz., but there is some disagreement over species names in this genus. More insidiously, several large bulb companies market the ornamental onion Allium oreophyllum (= ostrowskianum) as Alpine Bells or Alpine Rosy Bells. These do have attractive flowers, and also seem to be not weedy, but lack the grace and elegance of the true Alpine Bells and bloom much later.
Ornamental onion Allium oreophyllum


  1. A pretty plant, I should try them out. Does the foliage persist until autumn frosts? And how are they for attracting buggy nectar-sippers?

  2. The foliage persists in my shade beds - morning sun along a West fence and intermittent sun along a bed under a spruce. I suspect it would die back in full sun in summer (such is typical of many shade plants).

    No data on pollinators.