What are those Mysterious Blue Flowers in my Garden?
Every summer morning before I depart my house for work, I enjoy taking a walk around our front yard. I take great pleasure at listening to the wind swishing through the treetops as I walk alongside our wildflower gardens looking at the tremendous variety of flowers that are in bloom.
During the last two weeks of July 2011, our flower gardens have been especially colorful. We have a variety of coneflowers currently in bloom, some of which are purple, and others that have yellow petals with bright red centers. Along with the coneflowers, we have daisies, Black-eyed Susans, bee balm, hydrangea, coreopsis, Sweet Williams, and several varieties of wild mallows currently in bloom, all providing a brilliant floral kaleidoscope in our yard.
Recently, our garden provided yet another in a series of surprises that has been a sheer delight to us. Last week, I noticed flashes of a deep, vibrant blue peeking from a secluded spot near our front porch. Obviously, something was growing there — something partially hidden by the taller flowers surrounding it. I uncovered the area where I saw these mysterious patches of blue, and found myself looking at one of the most beautiful flowers I had ever seen.
I had never before seen anything like this mysterious flower. It had large, bell-shaped blossoms that were nearly four inches in diameter. The blossom was a deep, vibrant blue made up of five perfectly symmetrical petals. The petals were heavily lined with had dark blue, almost purple-colored veins. At the blossom’s center was a long blue style topped by a dainty white stigma, and five stamens arrayed in a star-shaped pattern.
What exactly was it? Was it a vinca, more commonly known as a periwinkle? The colors were similar but not exact, as was the pattern of five bell-shaped petals. But the blossom’s center didn’t resemble that of a vinca. I did a little research to try to discover what these flowers were, but couldn’t find anything that matched what was growing in my garden.
The Mystery Revealed: The Balloon Flower (Chinese Bellflower)
Almost by accident, I was finally able to identify my “mystery flower” as the balloon flower, also known variously as the Chinese or Japanese bellflower. Its species name is platycodon grandiflorus. It is actually a highly valued cultivated flower that my wife had planted in that spot in 2010. I had not noticed it before because it is a “late bloomer” whose blossoms only begin to appear in mid-July, when other flowers’ blossoms have already begun to fade.
About the Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorus)
The balloon flower is a durable perennial belonging to the campanulaceae (bell-shaped blossoms) family of angiosperms (flowering plants). It is the only member of the platycodon (broad bell) genus of campanulaceae flowers. The “official” name for this plant is Platycodon grandiflorus, but it is known as the Chinese Bellflower or more commonly as the balloon flower. It derives this nickname from the large, balloon-shaped buds that form and eventually open to blossoms of blue, pink, or white.
The balloon flower is a hardy plant that has small and smooth blue-green leaves and grows to an average height of 2-3 feet. It is native to Japan, Korea, and China; but easily tolerates most temperate North American climates. It grows well in soil that can vary from mildly acidic to mildly alkaline, and requires partial sun and shade. Although the balloon flower easily reproduces, it is non-invasive. It doesn’t spread, and won’t crowd out its neighbors. It is also very resistant to insect infestation.
Platycodon grandiflorus requires partial sun and shade, moderate watering and frequent “deadheading,” but very little else in the way of care. It is a heavy bloomer that will provide frequent clusters of large and spectacular blossoms from mid-July through mid-September. The blossoms only last for a few days, but, with proper “deadheading,” will be quickly replicated by new blooms.
Plant propagation is relatively easy and trouble-free. Gardeners may divide the root ball, or collect and sow seeds. Seedpods form in the autumn and seeds can be easily collected and sown either in flowerpots or directly into garden soil. Seeds sown indoors should be planted before the season’s last frost; seeds sown directly into gardens should be planted outdoors after the season’s last frost.
Benefits of the Balloon Flower
The primary benefit of the balloon flower is its spectacular beauty. It is primarily an ornamental plant that is used at the front of gardens. However, the plant does have some practical benefits. It is non-toxic; in fact, its roots are edible and are also used in traditional Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory drug.
For more information on the Balloon Flower (platycodon grandiflorus,) please visit:
Platycodon grandiflorus – Wikipedia article
PlantFiles: Balloon Flower, Chinese Bellflower, Japanese Bellflower, Toraji
Platycodon grandiflorus – Davesgarden.com
Balloon Flower (Chinese Bellflower) – GardenGuides.com
To view more pictures of the Balloon Flower and other wildflowers in my garden, please visit:
Wildflower Garden Treasures – (Slideshow)
More Wildflower Garden Delights – (Slideshow)