// Twitter Cards // Prexisting Head The Biologist Is In: Botanizing in Alaska: Northern Bluebells

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Botanizing in Alaska: Northern Bluebells

1. Mertensia paniculata.
Around the house we were staying at in central Alaska, the woods were full of this lovely blue-bell flower (fig 1). The name we knew for the plant was Comfrey (Symphytum officinale).

2. Symphytum officinale.
At the Fairbanks University botanical garden, we found a plant labeled as Comfrey (fig 2) that looked quite distinct from the plants in the woods. With its larger and more purple flowers, we thought it was strange. We interpreted the differences as being related to the plants being from different varieties. Many domesticated versions of flowers look distinct from their wild relatives, after all.

Looking through a list of Alaska native flowers, I found our blue flowered friend. It is named Mertensia paniculata ("Northern Bluebells" or "Chiming Bells") and grows as a woodland wildflower throughout central Alaska. The flowers and overall growth form of the two species are remarkably similar for not being in the same genus. The two genera are in in the same family, the Boraginaceae, so the similarities make some sense in the end.

I did succeed in collecting seeds for M. paniculata, so I might be able to get further pictures of the species later this season.