Creeping Bellflower, Campanula rapunculoides

A specimen of creeping bellflower, Campanula rapunculoides in a garden.

A specimen of creeping bellflower, Campanula rapunculoides in a garden.

Creeping bellflower, Campanula rapunculoides, is a too-vigorous herbaceous perennial native to Europe, Western Asia and the Caucasus. The specific name rapunculoides, meaning like Rapunculus, refers to a now obsolete-name for a group of bellflowers, meaning “little turnip” (for the roots). One common name in Europe is rampion, after which the Old World fairy tale figure Rapunzel is named. In that story her father steals a rampion plant from a witch’s magic garden to aid his wife in childbirth, and as punishment Rapunzel is exiled to a tower. Other common names include creeping bluebell, European bellflower, garden bluebell, June bell, rampion bellflower, and rover bellflower. The leaves, shoots and roots of this plant are edible, and it was once grown for culinary purposes.

Creeping bellflower in bloom.

Creeping bellflower in bloom.

In its native range creeping bellflower is found mainly in open woodlands, forest edges, and meadows. It was brought to North America as an ornamental, but is now considered an invasive weed by most people, despite its attractive flowers. In Wisconsin it is listed as a “restricted invasive plant.” It grows in almost any soil in wet or dry conditions, reseeds readily and spreads by rhizomes and root fragments. Even the smallest root piece is capable of regenerating, so it is exceptionally difficult to eliminate by cultivation or digging out plants. In rich soil it can take over beds and move into lawns. In more difficult locations (drier or heavier soils) it can be a low-maintenance plant for covering large areas – but be sure it won’t move off your property into natural areas (and deadhead to prevent self-seeding).

Creeping bellflower can be an aggressive weed in gardens and lawns.

Creeping bellflower can be an aggressive weed in gardens and lawns.

Hardy in zone 3-9, creeping bellflower is naturalized in many parts of North America, and is classified as a noxious weed in some states or provinces.  It cannot be recommended as a useful ornamental plant; avoid introducing it in your garden! It is often found in disturbed areas, along roadsides, in fields and forest plantations, and as a lawn weed. This plant is often inadvertently spread in contaminated commercial seed and nursery stock.

The heart-shaped leaves growing on the tall stems are irregularly toothed.

The heart-shaped leaves growing on the tall stems are irregularly toothed.

Creeping bellflower produces erect, unbranched green to purple stems 1-3 feet tall. The basal leaves are wider and heart-shaped while the leaves on the stems gradually become shorter and more narrow with shorter (or no) petioles toward the top. The largest leaves are up to 5” long and 2” wide. The opposite foliage is coarse and irregularly toothed, with small blunt teeth. The leaves are dark green on the upper surface and light green below, with short hairs along the underside of the leaf veins.

The lavender to purple-blue, bell-shaped flowers bloom from early summer through fall. Peak flowering in southern Wisconsin is in July. The corolla of each flower is 1-1½” long with 5 recurved, pointed lobes. The corolla is surrounded by 5 much smaller, green lanceolate sepals. The flower has 5 stamens and an exerted white or pale purple style with 3 curled stigmas. The flowers occur in a terminal raceme (unbranched cluster) with a number of slightly nodding or drooping flowers on short pedicels along one side of the stem. There is a small leafy bract at the base of each pedicel. They open from the bottom up the slender flower stems. The flowers are followed by spherical seed capsules that each contain several small, shiny, tan to light brown seeds that ripen in late summer and fall. The light-weight, elliptical seeds have small wings or ridges for wind dispersal. Vigorous plants can produce up to 15,000 seeds annually and self-sow readily.

Creeping bellflower produces clusters of flowers along the upright stems, with nodding, bell-shaped flowers.

Creeping bellflower produces clusters of flowers along the upright stems, with nodding, bell-shaped flowers.

Creeping bellflower spreads by short stolons.

Creeping bellflower spreads by short stolons.

They may occur in dense patches, spreading by short stolons. There are both slender surface roots and deeper, fibrous and bland-tasting, tuber-like roots up to 18” long and about an inch in diameter. It is not picky about soil, although it prefers moist, rich soil in sun or partial shade. Plants do not grow as fast or spread as much in heavier or drier soils – but they still do just fine in clay (and the masses of thick white roots are harder to get out). This species may overwhelm other less vigorous plants.

A young creeping bellflower plant.

A young creeping bellflower plant.

Slugs do like this plant, and feeding in spring can damage plants significantly in some circumstances, but usually not enough to eliminate an infestation. It is not preferred by deer.

Creeping bellflower is very difficult to eradicate. It is nearly impossible to control it by digging or pulling the roots and even chemical control is difficult. Non-selective herbicides, such as glyphosate, can be effective, but it may require several applications to eliminate all the roots.

Other common species that resemble creeping bellflower include:

  • Campanula glomerata.

    Campanula glomerata.

    Campanula glomerata (Clustered Bellflower) produces a cluster of more erect flowers at the top of each central stem. The sepals are longer and wider than those of C. rapunculoides.

  • Campanula rotundifolia (Harebells) has linear leaves and the flowers are usually less than an inch long. Plants are also usually shorter.
  • Campanulastrum americanum (= Campanula americana, American Bellflower) is a native plant with flowers that have widely spreading lobes, forming a more star-shaped bloom from the shallow corolla.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison 

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  1. Interesting to learn the history of this invasive plant. 15,000 seeds annually is unbelievable!! Good to know it’s restricted in Wisconsin. Thanks for another informative article.

  2. To all folks who are having a h*ll of a time getting rid of creeping bellflower. I believe I have found a way to totally eradicate this plant. Took me 6 years of experimenting to prove it to myself. It does not involve digging them out, but does involve spraying minute amounts of chemicals on the plant itself. So far I have noted that within 10 days of warm weather, the plant withers completely brown and is STONE dead. They have not come back and I am in my 3rd year of waiting for them to do so. I will be conducting further experiments in the Edmonton Alberta area for other folks to replicate my success in my neighborhood. So don’t give up. BTW – I use VERY little chemical on each plant and it simply works. Cheers all.

    • What chemical do you spray on the plant and what is a minute amount?

    • Please please share what chemical you’re using! It’s getting out of control over here as well. I live in Calgary btw

    • Did you use Round up or Trichlor or something else?

  3. I’m afraid my lovely garden is inundated by this unruly beauty. I do my best to stay ahead of the game by pulling it away from other perennials vying for the same space. I find that weeding just after a rain makes getting roots out a bit easier.

    Sadly, I feel I can no longer in good conscience share diggings of perennials from my garden. I do not want to inadvertently share this nemesis with other gardening friends.

    • Good point–hadn’t really considered that I might be sharing the “bounty”. Despite having seen it in other people’s offerings!

  4. This zombie has taken over my entire garden. The more I dig it out, the faster it grows and the more entrenched it becomes. I am so happy to see it is EDIBLE! At least I might get SOMETHING positive for all the work it causes me! I wish I could actually find recipes for how to cook it. I am thinking I might stir fry it and serve it topped with fresh goat cheese.

  5. Well written article and very informative without editorializing.

    In my zone 6 garden in the city (Pittsburgh, PA) the groundhogs love to eat it’s leaves.

    Wondering if anyone has seen Hummingbirds on these flowers?

  6. I have successfully controlled it in my flower gardens and among the raspberries for years, by pulling it out, but never eliminated it. But my gardens are small.

  7. I was concerned that a recent volunteer addition to the edge of my wooded area was this invasive. After consulting this article, Wildflowers of Wisconsin by Merel Black and Emmet Judziewicz), Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest by Elizabeth Czarapata, and Landscaping with Native Plants of Wisconsin by Lynn Steiner I have concluded that thankfully I have Campanula rotundifolia.

  8. It is taking over my terrace prairie. I have tried everything to eliminate it. Last fall I covered it with plastic and leaf piles, and it just expanded out the edges and sometimes right through the plastic! I’m going to try spraying it with vinegar–has anyone tried this? It’s going to kill years of work and last summer I had monarchs, so I’m desperate to save what’s left.

    • I have this scourge all over my property. It truly is heinous to dig out if you don’t have loose, moist soil.

      For the person who said that they have a prairie area being taken over: Another UW Extension publication states that controlled fire early in the season may be helpful to allow prairie species to take hold and provide better competition. This might be a good option for your area.

  9. This nasty plant is EDIBLE! It is extremely difficult to dig out as well.

  10. I have this plant in my own yard and have seen it in others all over the state.

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