Bluebell gentian, favorite wildflower of the drought

The showy blue-purple blooms of the bluebell make it a favorite wildflower. Supposedly, those eye-catching flowers have led the plant to extinction in certain places where people could not resist picking them all.

The bluebell gentian is the namesake for the popular Blue Bell Ice Cream, which originated in Brenham in 1907. Bluebells may occupy whole fields in the Brenham area. What a sight when they are in bloom!

In Kendall County, even during a dry period, there are bluebells in many low, moist(?) places such as the Cibolo Nature Center marsh, various places along Cibolo Creek southeast of Boerne, and on the banks of the Guadalupe River at Kendall County’s newly acquired parkland. Some authors say they are biennial or short-lived perennials, which may partly explain their apparent relative abundance some years.

Bluebell gentian (Eustoma grandiflorum or russellianum) is a widespread species, growing in the wild throughout the central US and into Central America. Some botanists divide the Texas bluebell gentians into two species based mostly on supposed differences in flower width. The prairie bluebell (E. exaltatum), according to some botanists, is a separate species, but others think all the bluebells are subspecies of a single species. I’m sure DNA testing will soon resolve the discussion.

Among the Texas bluebell gentians there is variation in color, including purple, blue, pink, and white. Horticulturists have developed a number of cultivars from these different color varieties and introduced them to the nursery trade. Bluebell gentians, probably from Texas, have been cultivated in Japan for many decades.

As the common name implies, the bluebell is a member of the Gentian Family, which also includes the three kinds of pinks (Centaurium sp.) common to the Hill Country. The bluebell gentian is not to be confused with the rare Texas bluebell (Campanula reverchonii), an endemic which today grows only on granite and metamorphic rock of the Llano Uplift. As an interesting aside, there is one historic record of the Texas bluebell having been collected in Kendall County near Waring.