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Harebell { Wild Flora}

Updated on August 11, 2013


The picture was taken in Austria
The picture was taken in Austria | Source

Introducing the Harebell

On heaths and pastures where the turf is kept close cropped {usually by grazing}, from one end of the country {UK} to the other we may encounter all summer long, one of the most charming of all our wild flora, and one which poets and prose romancers of all ages have made good use.

It is well known in the south of England as Harebell or Hairbell, but in Scotland it is referred to as the Bluebell. The Harebell was in Roman Catholic countries dedicated to St.Dominic. Though as so graceful a flower it does not appear as much as one would expect in poetry or literature. However, it does occur in Walter Scott's poem 'The Lady Of the Lake'

" For me,-she stoop'd, and,looked around

Pulck'd a blue harebell from the ground,-

For me, whose memory scarce conveys'

An image of more splended days,

This little flower that loves the lea. May well my simple emblem be---"

In the Language of flowers it signifies submission and grief. there are myths and legends attributed to this plant, as there is to many plants with bell shaped flowers. Archaic names include Witch bell and Witches thimble. It is the true 'Bluebell' of Scotland, though that name became bestowed on the Wild Hyacinth, a plant nowadays commonly referred to as the native Bluebell in the rest of the UK.

Scotland is pre-eminently the land of mountains and moor and it is in these situations that the Harebell thrives. These situations are alien to the Bluebell, which is for all intents and purposes a woodland flower.

It is sometimes referred to as the round leaved bellflower which is a translation of the Latin name Campanula rotundifolia.

The Harebell Campanula rotundifolia

Familiar Wild flowers. {1887}  Courtesy of the BHL.
Familiar Wild flowers. {1887} Courtesy of the BHL.

Description and basic biology of the Harebell

Although the specific name is rotundifolia it rarely produces round leaves. These basal leaves that are referred to are rarely seen, partly because they are often hidden by grasses and taller herbage and partly because they wither and die long before the rest of the plant succumbs to climatic influences, and as the year advances they will not be found even if they are searched for.

The upper foliage or stem foliage, as seen illustrated in the image above, are very narrow and are termed by botanists as being linear. from the arched summit of the stem hangs the flower in an inverted position -the proper position for a bell, which the flower resembles in form.The stems vary in height according to the situation in which it is encountered, which may be considerable between one or two inches to about a foot. The stems may branch.

The bell shaped flower has a mouth that is cut into five short lobes which curve outwardly. It was once thought that the bell was so hung on it stem to enable the pollen to fall from the anthers upon the stigma, whilst the vaulted roof kept out the rain. But this fact is not correct { the same mistake was made by early botanists as regards the fuchsia flower}. Those early botanists over looked the important fact that the sticky, stigmatic surface, which is alone sensitive to the pollen, is underneath and can not receive the fertilizing powder.

According to Edward Step in his book the, 'Romance of Flowers' 1899, the bell shaped flower works, in a manner of speaking, in the same way as the florets of the daisy and dandelion. In order to adapt them better for the visit of insects the five petals have been fused together by their edges but the tips of those petals have been left as projecting lobes to serve as developmental clues. As in those of the dandelion florets, we find the calyx lobes are here above the ovary, which is divided into several cells each containing 'seed eggs'. There are five stamens springing from disk and at the base of each of each filament a vaulted chamber over the honey glands around the pistil. the style ends in a club-shaped head, which divides later into three or five stigmatic arms. A little below this thickened portion of the style is covered with hairs.

When the flower opens, the anthers are all pressed against the hairy part of the style, and shed their pollen against it, where it remains entangled in the hairs. Then the anthers start back from the style and shrivel away, and disclose the style muffled up in its coat of pollen. Certain bees visit the harebell flower only and use the clapper-like style for alighting and for climbing up to the honey glands.

They would often crawl up the walls of the corolla, but this is adorned with long hairs which poke the bee and annoy it. The advantage of using the style is that it leads directly to the honey, and so the bee climbs up and gets its underside well covered with pollen. Several other bees come before the honey gland is exhausted and between them carry of the bulk of the pollen.

Then the style lengthens, the clubbed head splits into from three to five arms, which spread widely, so that they occupy a considerable portion of the mouth of the bell, and the side of the arms that is exposed outwardly becomes stigmatic. Should a bee now come, after getting itself dusted with pollen in a younger flower, it will alight on the stigmas and fertilize them.

Thus the hare bell has adopted this hanging attitude for its flowers, doubtless to protect both honey and pollen, but not all native species of Campanula are so careful in this respect. All the other kinds in fact bear flowers erectly or inclined to be in an horizontal position, but the plan for fertilization is the same in all.

After fertilization the ovary of the bellflower becomes a seed capsule more a less shaped like a whip-top, and curiously opening when the seeds are ripe by slits or little doors near the stalk just under the calyx lobes. Those of the Harebell and the much larger Nettled -leaved bellflower are examples of the first kind, and the spreading bell flower C.patula is an example of the second kind.

Components of the Harebell



The harebell was supposedly named because it inhabits the same localities as the hare. However, in much earlier times it was referred to as the Hairbell alluding to their wiry stems, and Harebell is thought to be just a later corruption of the original name.

" The harebell that for her stainless azure blue,

Claims to be worn of none but those that are true"

{ From Brown's Pastorals.}

It was the Harebell which "raised its head, elastic" from the " airy tread" of Ellen Douglas and which , turned silver by " Fairy glamour" rung out the wishes in a well known tale, when she held it up to the male moonlight.

It was the same with the little boy in archaic times who heard ringing, when he sat in a fairy circle on the hill side, he chanced to touch the flower with his foot, and to the sweetness of whose chimes all the sheep on the hill side gathered round to listen.Nor did they forget its charm when evening came, for vainly did he try to take the sheep away, and none would go home with him till he gathered the blue bell, and carried before his flock which followed him for days until the blossom withered.

Harebell uses

Most Bellflowers {Campanula} and their allies abound in a milky juice which serves to protect them from many animals. man, however, has found that this juice may be removed by cooking. In the species where they were sufficiently numerous to warrant the trouble of harvesting C,rapunculus for example, which has a fleshy root, it was cultivated and utilized as food.

It was this latter species that was grown in cottage gardens in days long ago under the name of Rampion, for use as a medicinal herb. Gerard conveys to us " Some affirme that the decoction of the roots are good for inflammations of the mouth and almonds of the throte and other diseases happening in the mouth and throte as other throte warts"


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hello Devika thank you it is good to know that you find them interesting. The whole aim of producing hubs is to share knowledge and wild flora is a very interesting subject. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Harebell { Wild Flora} great writing D.A.L. such information is educational and helpful to birdwatchers or students. Voted up and interesting and useful

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb, thank you your words are kind and encouraging. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Such a gorgeous flower. You gave us a lot of great information, most like things that I never would have found elsewhere. Great work!


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