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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. 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. 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. In Missouri, it flowers from May to August; in Minnesota, from June to October. The flowers are pollinated by bees, but can self-pollinate.
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.
The species is very variable in form.
It occurs as tetraploid or hexaploid populations in Britain and Ireland, but diploids occur widely in continental Europe. 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.
The Harebell is dedicated to Saint Dominic.
- 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.[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.
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.
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
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- McAllister, H.A. 1973. The experimental taxonomy of Campanula rotundifolia L. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Glasgow
- Plantlife website County Flowers page
- William Shakespeare, Cymbeline (iv. 2), Arviragus speech
- John Clare,Poem, By a Cottage Near a Wood, written at High Beach, Epping, 1837–1841, and at Northborough, 1841
- Christina G Rossetti, A Nursery Rhyme Book, Macmillan and Co., London, New York (1893)
- Emily Dickinson, Did the Harebell loose her girdle, Volume: Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, first published in 1955
- R and A Fitter, The Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe, Collins, 1974