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Favourites - 5

Contributions from readers are invited for this series on their favourite species, cultivar, hybrid or plant group. You don't need to write much - three or four paragraphs would be fine! So, if you'd like to give it a go, please get in touch with the editor (sgap@ozemail.com.au). If you have a good colour photograph to accompany it, that would be great but, if not, we may be able to dig up one from somewhere!

Wahlenbergia stricta - Tall bluebell

Monika Herrmann

Wahlenbergias are annual or perennial tufted herbs with fleshy roots or almost woody rootstocks or rhizomes. The leaves are obovate to linear and can be alternate, opposite or whorled (out with those botanical terminology notes!) All the wahlenbergias have beautiful, blue (occasionally white) four to five-lobed, bell-shaped flowers at the end of long, slender erect stalks or produced in loose cymes (inflorescence where the branches are opposite and the flowers open sequentially downwards from the terminal of each branch - there will be questions!)

In most species the flowers nod in bud, becoming erect as they mature and open (and I at first thought that they were wilting). Planting these delightful, dainty flowers en masse or in groups along the paths or between rocks and low ground cover gives a delicate, long-flowering show from late spring to autumn. They also make ideal container plants, requiring moist, well-drained soils.

Wahlenbergia stricta, the Tall Bluebell, which is the species we have, is a tall, clumping, much branched perennial herb, growing to 40-90cm tall, widespread in plains, grassland, red gum woodland, in wet and damp valleys and dry sclerophyll forests and grassy low open forest. It grows in all states except the Northern Territory. The foliage (here we go again) is hairy, ovate, opposite, lower leaves are 10-70mm long with wavy edges, set at right angles to the stem. Upper leaves are smaller and more linear. The lovely light blue flowers (occasionally all white) have a white throat and are 25mm wide with a conspicuous tube. This species tolerates some dryness. The petals are edible and are most attractive added to a salad. (I think that I would like a large quantity of flowers before doing that!) Aborigines certainly picked and ate the flowers.

W.communis, Tufted Bluebell, also grows in our area. W.gloriosa, Royal Bluebell was proclaimed the floral emblem of the ACT in 1982. It is generally found in alpine areas and spreads by suckering. The dark blue to purple flowers are large, about 3cm across and easily catch the eye, a lovely double form is also available.

Wahlenbergia stricta   Wahlenbergia gloriosa
The individual flowers of Wahlenbergia species are attractive in themselves but , in the garden, are better appreciated when mass planted.
Wahlenbergia stricta (left)
Wahlenbergia gloriosa (right)

Photos: Brian Walters and Nathan Hurst

Other genera that are in this family are the Isotoma, Pratia and Lobelia, among others.


Gwen Elliot, Australian Plants Identified
SGAP Maroondah ,Inc Flora of Melbourne

From the newsletter of the Foothills Group of the Australian Plants Society (Victoria), November 2000.


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Australian Plants online - June 2001
Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants