Perennial Plant Feature-- Ladybells
By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
A dainty name for a potentially invasive plant, Ladybells (Adenophora) can be used effectively to add blue to a garden border for most of the summer.
Ladybells is in the Campanula family (Campanulaceae) and resembles its relatives, having bell-shaped flowers. The main difference is a gland at the base of the male flower parts (stamens) in Ladybells. This gives rise to its genus name, coming from aden meaning "gland" and phoreo meaning "to bear." Another common name you may see is Gland Bellflower. This plant species is native to Eurasia and Japan.
The flowers are variously blue, depending on the species, from dark blue and violet to pale blue. The individual flowers are either upright or hanging, depending once again on the particular species, and form flower spikes. Blooming late spring in the South, early summer in the North, they can be cut back after flowering for repeated bloom.
Cutting the flowers off after bloom, a process known as deadheading, also prevents this plant from sending its seeds everywhere throughout your garden and beyond. Keeping it from going to seed is important to prevent its unwanted spread, especially in warmer southern locations, or if naturalizing in masses. This is easy to do. If you planted in masses, just go through with hedge shears and shear off all the old flower spikes.
This plant is variously hardy, with one group better suited for the North and another group of species better suited for the South. Some, such as the popular Purple Ladybells (pereskiifolia) are only hardy in zones 7 to 9. This group, being more heat tolerant than bellflowers, can be used as a substitute for them in hot regions. Others, such as the also popular Common Ladybells (confusa) and Lilyleaf Ladybells (lilifolia), are hardy in zones 3 through 7.
These three species are the most common of the 10 or so you might find. The Purple Ladybells has blue flowers and grows 18 to 24 inches high with whorled leaves. The Common Ladybells has dark blue, hanging flowers. It grows two to three feet high and has alternate leaves (borne alternately up the stem, not opposite from each other).
The Lilyleaf Ladybells has pale blue or white, hanging flowers. It grows 18 to 24 inches high and also has alternate leaves. Leaves of the latter are narrower, only about one inch wide, resembling lily leaves from where it gets its common name.
Plant Ladybells where they may stay, as they do not transplant well, having fleshy roots. Obviously, seed is a good way to start them, but stem cuttings taken in late spring also work well for propagation. Tolerant of full sun to part shade, they generally prefer a moist and well-drained soil for best growth. Some species will tolerate other less ideal soils.
For more details on Ladybells, as well as on many other choice perennials, check out Perry's Perennial Pages (http://www.uvm.edu/~pass/perry/) on the Internet.