The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States

Marsh Bellflower

Common Name
Marsh Bellflower


Scientific Name
Campanula aparinoides Pursh


Plant Family
Bellflower (Campanulaceae)

Garden Location
Historical - not extant


Prime Season
Early to Late Summer



Marsh Bellflower is a native perennial plant, growing to 36 inches high, or we should say,"long," as it is usually leaning on other plants. The stems are weak, slender, somewhat 3-angled with rough edges. Stems are unbranched except near the inflorescence. They contain a milky sap.

Leaves: The narrow linear leaves are alternate, and differ in size between two varieties (notes below). They can be up to 2-1/2 inches long, about 12x longer than wide, or they can be up to 1-1/2 inches long and only 6x longer than wide. They are light green, thin, may have a few slight teeth, have rough margins and are rough on the mid-vein below.

The inflorescence is a single small flower on a diverging wiry stalk.

Flowers: Each funnel or bell shaped flower is 1/4 to 1/2 inch long, and usually somewhat nodding. They range from white to pale blue in color. The corolla lobes are fused at the base, then separate into 5 almost triangular lobes that spread outward. The main veins of the lobes lack most of the color of the lobes and create a 'ribbed' appearance. The green calyx is fused at the base then separates into 5 triangular sharply pointed lobes. There are 5 stamens and a pistil with a single style that forms a stigma with 3 lobes.

Seed: Mature flowers form an ovoid ribbed capsule with 3 chambers that open near the base to release the many oblong seeds. Seed of the Campanulas usually requires at least 30 days of cold stratification plus light for germination.

Varieties: Two - see bottom of page. In Eloise Butler's day one the varieties now named var. aparinoides, was named as the separate species Campanula uliginosa.


Habitat: Marsh Bellflower requires full sun in moist to wet soils. It is frequently encountered along the edges of marsh vegetation where it is not overshadowed by larger plants.

Names: The genus Campanula, is derived from the Latin word Campana for 'bell', the shape of the flower. The species aparinoides, is from the Greek word Aparine for the plant Cleavers (Galium aparine) and meaning 'like cleavers' because the leaves resemble those of Cleavers. The author name for the plant classification, ‘Pursh’ is for Frederick Traugott Pursh (1774-1820) German-American botanist who wrote A Systematic Arrangement and Description of the Plants of North America, and was the botanist who catalogued and described the plants brought back by the exploring expedition of Lewis and Clark. Pursh was disliked by American botanists because he took some of these plants to New York with him and later to London treating them as his own property. He did the same years later with much material collected by Thomas Nuttall, writing it up with no credit to Nuttall.

Comparisons: Marsh Bellflower is similar, but smaller, than the blue-violet flowered Harebell, Campanula rotundifolia. Other differences are that Harebell is more erect, not as tall, the leaves are not rough, the stem is smooth, and the calyx lobes are much more elongated.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Below: 1st photo - The twisty stems are long and lean on other plants for support. 2nd photo - Flowers are solitary atop a long wiry stalk. Corolla lobes are more acute than those of C. rotundifolia. 3rd photo - Leaves are 6x longer than wide on var. grandiflora - the shorter of the two varieties. Note the rough edges similar to Cleavers.

Marsh Bellflower plant Marsh Bellflower flower Marsh Bellflower leaf

Below: 1st photo - The reproductive parts of the flower have 5 stamens and a pistil with a single style that forms a stigma with 3 lobes. 2nd photo - The green outer calyx has five sharp pointed lobes that persist onto the maturing seed capsule. Note in both photos the lack of color in the veins.

Marsh Bellflower flower head calyx

Below: The seed capsule forming. The calyx lobes will persist and the capsule will be flat-topped.

Marsh Bellflower calyx tube

Below: A comparison of the five Garden Bellflowers.

Bellflower comparison


Notes: Marsh Bellflower is the only native Bellflower that is definitely indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler noted in blooming on July 19, 1913, without ever planting any previously. It was present in the Garden at the time of Martha Crone's 1951 census - she had noted planting it in 1946 - but by the 1986 census it was missing. This plant is native to the eastern part of North America. In Canada from Saskatchewan eastward and in the US from the Central Plains eastward; south as far as Nebraska, Missouri, and then south to the rest of the SE except Florida. In Minnesota it is more widespread than C. rotundifolia, being found in almost all counties except those in the drier SW corner.

Varieties: Two are recognized and both are reported to be in Minnesota - var. grandiflora with leaves about 6x as long as wide and var. aparinoides with longer leaves - 12x as long as wide. The latter variety was, in earlier years treated as a separate species, C. uliginosa, and some references will currently list it as var. uliginosa, instead of the more accepted var. aparinoides. There are small differences in flower size. These differences are so slight that the MN DNR does not break down county survey data by variety. On Aug. 8, 1915 Eloise Butler made the following note in her log: "Discovered in east meadow Campanula uliginosa!! in abundance. This seems to be the prevailing species in the meadows, while C. aparinoides is found on somewhat drier ground bordering the meadows and paths."

Marsh Bellflower is one of 3 species of Campanula native to Minnesota. The other two are C. rotundifolia, Harebell and C. americana, the Tall Bellflower. Two others found in the state are introductions: C. cervicaria, Bristly bluebells; and C. rapunculoides, European Bellflower.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.