Campanula rotundifolia

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Campanulaceae
Genus: Campanula
Species: C. rotundifolia
Binomial name
Campanula rotundifolia
L. 1753

Campanula rotundifolia (harebell) is a herbaceous perennial flowering plant in the bellflower family Campanulaceae. It has a circumpolar distribution in the Northern Hemisphere, from about latitude 40° N to about 70° N, extending in Europe from the north Mediterranean to the arctic.

Scottish bluebells or harebells (campanula rotundifolia) in Illulissat, Greenland at near 70 degrees North latitude.

In Scotland, it is often known as the bluebell. Elsewhere in Britain, bluebell refers to Hyacinthoides non-scripta, and in North America, bluebell refers to Virginia bluebell. Campanula rotundifolia was historically also known by several other names including blawort, hair-bell, lady's thimble, witch's bells, and witch's thimbles.[2][3]


Petal lobes curve outwards.
Growing wild on a soil covered concrete slab.
White variant

Campanula rotundifolia is a perennial species of flowering plant, a slender, prostrate to erect herb, spreading by seed and rhizomes. The basal leaves are long-stalked, rounded to heart-shaped, usually slightly toothed, with prominent hydathodes, and often wither early. Leaves on the flowering stems are long and narrow and the upper ones are unstemmed.[4] The inflorescence is a panicle or raceme, with 1 – many flowers borne on very slender pedicels. The flowers usually have five (occasionally 4, 6 or 7) pale to mid violet-blue petals fused together into a bell shape, about 12–30 mm (0.5–1.2 in) long and five long, pointed green sepals behind them. Plants with pale pink or white flowers may also occur.[4] The petal lobes are triangular and curve outwards. The seeds are produced in a capsule about 3–4 mm (0.1–0.2 in) diameter and are released by pores at the base of the capsule. Seedlings are minute, but established plants can compete with tall grass. As with many other Campanulas, all parts of the plant exude white latex when injured or broken.

The flowering period is long, and varies by location. In the British Isles, harebell flowers from July to November.[4][5][6] In Missouri, it flowers from May to August; in Minnesota, from June to October.[7][8] The flowers are pollinated by bees, but can self-pollinate.


Campanula rotundifolia has a near-circumpolar distribution in the northern hemisphere, from about latitude 40 oN to about 70 oN, extending in Europe from northernmost Scandinavia to the Pyrenees and the French Mediterranean coast.[9] It occurs on the southern coasts of Greenland, on Iceland and Svalbard and on southern Novaya Zemlya.[9]

It occurs as tetraploid or hexaploid populations in Britain and Ireland, but diploids occur widely in continental Europe.[10] In Britain, the tetraploid population has an easterly distribution and the hexaploid population a westerly distribution, and very little mixing occurs at the range boundaries.[4]


Harebells are native to dry, nutrient-poor grassland and heaths in Britain, northern Europe, and North America. The plant often successfully colonises cracks in walls or cliff faces and dunes.


If exposed to moist cool conditions during the summer no pause in vegetative growth is exhibited, which suggests that temperature is a limiting factor. C. rotundifolia is more inclined to occupy climates that have an average temperature below 0 °C in the cold months and above 10 °C in the summer.[11]


The harebell is dedicated to Saint Dominic.

In 2002 Plantlife named it the county flower of Yorkshire in the United Kingdom.[12]

William Shakespeare makes a reference to 'the azured hare-bell' in Cymbeline

With fairest flowers,
Whilst summer lasts, and I live here, Fidele,
I'll sweeten thy sad grave: thou shalt not lack
The flower that's like thy face, pale primrose, nor
The azured hare-bell, like thy veins; no, nor
The leaf of eglantine, whom not to slander,
Out-sweeten’d not thy breath.[13][note 1]

John Clare draws attention to the brightness of the flowers of the Harebell in the dark of the wood.

By the hare-bell 's hazure sky,
(Like the hue of thy bright eye;)
That grows in woods, and groves so fair,
Where love I'd meet thee there.[14]

Christina Rossetti (1830–1894) wrote a poem entitled 'Hope is Like A Harebell'

Hope is like a harebell, trembling from its birth,
Love is like a rose, the joy of all the earth,
Faith is like a lily, lifted high and white,
Love is like a lovely rose, the world’s delight.
Harebells and sweet lilies show a thornless growth,
But the rose with all its thorns excels them both.[15]

Emily Dickinson uses the harebell as an analogy for desire that grows cold once that which is cherished is attained.

Did the Harebell loose her girdle
To the lover Bee
Would the Bee the Harebell hallow
Much as formerly?
Did the paradise - persuaded
Yield her moat of pearl
Would the Eden be an Eden
Or the Earl -an Earl[16]


  1. In Jessica Kerr's and Opelia Dowden's Shakespeare's Flowers published in 1970 they infer that Shakespeare was actually making reference to a bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)


  1. The Plant List, Campanula rotundifolia L.
  2. Miller, W. (1884), A Dictionary of English Names of Plants: Applied in England and Among English-speaking People to Cultivated and Wild Plants, Trees, and Shrubs, J. Murray
  3. Quattrocchi, U. (2012), CRC World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology (5 Volume Set), Taylor & Francis, ISBN 9781420080445
  4. 1 2 3 4 Stevens, C.J.; Wilson, J; McAllister, H.A. (2012). "Biological Flora of the British Isles: Campanula rotundifolia". Journal of Ecology. 100: 821–839. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2745.2012.01963.x.
  5. Blamey, M.; Fitter, R.; Fitter, A (2003). Wild flowers of Britain and Ireland: The Complete Guide to the British and Irish Flora. London: A & C Black. p. 250. ISBN 978-1408179505.
  6. Jeffree, E.P. (1960). "Some long-term means from the Phenological reports (1891–1948) of the Royal Meteorological Society". Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society. 86 (367): 95–103. Bibcode:1960QJRMS..86...95J. doi:10.1002/qj.49708636710.
  7. Missouri Plants
  8. Montana Plant Life
  9. 1 2 Anderberg, Arne. "Den Virtuella Floran, Campanula rotundifolia L.". Naturhistoriska riksmuseet, Stockholm, Sweden.
  10. McAllister, H.A. 1973. The experimental taxonomy of Campanula rotundifolia L. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Glasgow
  11. Shetler SG. 1982 Variation and evolution of Nearctic harebells (Campanula subsect. Heterophylla). Phan. Monogr. 11. 1-516 (1982)- En Abstr. in Excerpta Bot., A, 39(1): p.20 (1982).
  12. Plantlife website County Flowers page
  13. William Shakespeare, Cymbeline (iv. 2), Arviragus speech
  14. John Clare,Poem, By a Cottage Near a Wood, written at High Beach, Epping, 1837–1841, and at Northborough, 1841
  15. Christina G Rossetti, A Nursery Rhyme Book, Macmillan and Co., London, New York (1893)
  16. Emily Dickinson, Did the Harebell loose her girdle, Volume: Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, first published in 1955


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