Irish Flowers You Should Know

Out of all of the plants and flowers you can name, there’s one or two that we bet stand out when you think about Ireland and being Irish – the clover (particularly the four-leaf clover), and the shamrock. After all, the majority of green beauties such as the rare four-leaf clover can be found in Ireland, so it’s only fitting that you associate them with the country! But aside from the flowers and plants that make their way into almost every conversation over these next few weeks considering that St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, you should know that there are tons of others that thrive on Irish soil.

Irish Flowers

1. Bog-rosemary

Bog-rosemaries are wildflowers native to Ireland, and are usually found in the centre of the country. They are extremely small in size, and considering their height, it isn’t unusual to miss them – especially since they grow in areas surrounded by mosses. Characteristically, Bog-rosemary flowers bloom in early May, and by June, they have usually settled into a nice pale pink color.

2. Easter Lilies

Scientifically known as lilium longiflorum, the Easter Lily is actually native of Japan. However, considering that Ireland was at one point completely covered by ice during the Ice Age, it makes sense that some of their most beautiful blooms originated in other countries. For the Irish, the Easter Lily is symbolic of peace and is typically worn by Irish republicans during the Easter season in remembrance of those who fought and died for their country.

3. Sheeps Bit

Found growing on and around the Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s most visited attractions, are Sheeps Bit – flowers that bloom between June and August. You can easily tell that you’ve spotted them when you find the round flowers that are a mix of blue and purple in color.

4. Spring Squill

Spring Squill, known as “sciolla earraigh” to the Irish, is a part of the Asparagaceae family. These are rather small perennial flowers that thrive best in dry, short and coastal grounds. Native to Ireland, Spring Squill are most commonly found growing in groups (often in the Spring) and posses a beautiful pale blue color.

5. Wild Cherry

Wild Cherry trees are some of the most beautiful found in Ireland, and there are two different species of the native Wild Cherry that you can come across. The first, prunus avium, can be found in hedgerows and woodlands all throughout Ireland. The second, prunus padus, is relatively rare and is usually found in the Midlands and the West in what are considered limestone areas. And though they may be different in the way they look, the flowers they produce are beautiful whether they are on the tree’s branches or on the ground.

Considering that Ireland is known for being rather green, we’re not surprised that some of the world’s most gorgeous flowers and plants call it home. And now that you know some our favorite Irish flowers, you tell us – which are yours?

Wild Flowers of Ireland

Gorse/Furze/Whin

Scientific Plant Name: Ulex europaeus

Irish/Gaelic Plant Name: Aiteann

Irish Name Translated: Direct translation

You’d be hard pressed NOT to notice this yellow Irish wildflower on your travels around Ireland. These blazing blossoms set hillsides ablaze in both winter and summer. Get close for a sniff of the amazing coconut aroma. But not too close… Mind the thorns! What Gorse/Furze/Whin is called depends on where you are in Ireland.

💁 Fun Fact: Gorse flowers all year round. The Irish saying goes, “when gorse is out of flower, kissing is out of fashion”.

Broom

Scientific Plant Name: Cytisus scoparius

Irish/Gaelic Plant Name: Giolcach shléibhe

Irish Name Translated: Mountain Reed

Broom is often be mistaken with Gorse/Furze/Whin. Both are coloured a vivid yellow and similarly shaped. But Broom is softer to the touch. In addition, Broom only flowers in summer whereas Gorse/Furze blooms all year round. Broom is often found in sandy mountainous soils, hence its Irish name; ‘mountain reed’. 💁 Fun Fact: Irish folklore tells us the scent of a broom plant can tame wild dogs and horses

Dog Rose

Scientific Plant Name: Rosa canina Irish/Gaelic Plant Name: Feirdhris Irish Name Translated: No translation Ranging from white to dark pink in colour, these beautiful Irish wildflowers are often found growing along roadsides. The flowers have featured in many a traditional Irish song or poem. 💁 Fun Fact: The dog rose is very high in vitamin C and can be used to make tea and syrup. During the Second World War, dog rose syrup was uses as a substitute for citrus fruits, like oranges and lemons, which were unavailable in Ireland.

Elder

Scientific Plant Name: Sambucus nigra Irish/Gaelic Plant Name: Trom Irish Name Translated: Deep, or heavy This deciduous shrub is a very common. You’ll see elder in hedgerows all over Ireland. White-cream elder blossom is particularly noticeable in early summer. The flowers are heavily scented. Later, elder trees hang heavy with clusters of dark berries. These berries are often harvested to make cordials, syrups, jams and even wine! The elder plant grows quickly in the wild, often dominating its stretch of hedgerow. 💁 Fun Fact: Elderberries are a favourite with wild birds. Harvesting elderberries? Don’t forget to leave some for the birdies!

Ragged-Robin

Scientific Plant Name: Silene flos-cuculi Irish/Gaelic Plant Name: Lus Síoda Irish Name Translated: Silk plant This wildflower is often spotted in marshy areas. The Ragged-Robin favours boggy soil. Its five petals are fringed or ragged, hence the name. These ragged ends make it perfectly suited to windy Irish weather. Sadly, Ragged-Robin is no longer as common as it once was due to draining of bogs and other wetlands in Ireland. 💁 Fun Fact: Ragged-Robin is a favourite with butterflies. They feed on the nectar of the plant.

Foxglove

Scientific Plant Name: Digitalis purpurea Irish/Gaelic Plant Name: Lus Mór Irish Name Translated: Big herb Tall. Graceful. Downy. The Foxglove is a beautiful Irish wildflower found in many habitats. You’ll see foxgloves in woodlands, moors, mountains and sea cliffs. It thrives on acid soil and quickly colonises recently cleared ground. Foxgloves are often called ‘Fairy Thimbles’. In counties Fermanagh and Cavan, you were not meant to bring Foxgloves into the house, as they were deemed to bring bad luck. 💁 Fun Fact: Although the Foxglove plant is poisonous, it can be harvested for medicinal use. Foxglove contains both digitoxin and digoxin, which are used to treat heart conditions.

Sea Campion

Scientific Plant Name: Silene uniflora Irish/Gaelic Plant Name: Coireán mara Irish Name Translated: Sea Campion Surprise, surprise: Sea Campion is mainly found near the sea. You’ll notice this delicate white wildflower around shingle and near cliffs. It blooms from June to August. 💁 Fun Fact: Folklore from the area around the Cliffs of Moher holds that you should never pick Sea Campion for fear of tempting death. Given that it’s mainly found near the edge of cliff-tops, this is sage advice!

Fuchsia

Scientific Plant Name: Fuchsia magellanica Irish/Gaelic Plant Name: Fiúise or deora dé Irish Name Translated: Tears of God You’ll notice the Fuchsia wildflower along roadways. It’s typical of the southwest part of Ireland. But you’ll see the distinctive red and purple hanging blossoms in all corners of Ireland from July to October. Fuchsia are deciduous shrubs that favour coastal locations and rocky ground. 💁 Fun Fact: Fuchsia plants can survive for hundreds of years. The oldest known fuchsia was planted in 1899.

More about Irish Wildflowers…

Purchase Irish wildflower seeds

(le Róislín)

OK, so that’s really “trí ainm déag” but five name “families”, so I stuck with using “five” in the title of this blogpost, since it matches the format of the recent other entries in this series (naisc thíos).

If anyone has some further suggestions for names based on flowers, I’d love to hear from you. There are a few names which are related to trees, some a little indirectly, so that might be another blog topic for the future.

Meanwhile, our names for the day, with a very basic explanation, follow. Each grouping will get a little more detail below, unless I run out of space, that is. In that case, this blogpost, like many of its predecessors, will have a “cuid a dó”.

Bláth / Bláithín / Bláthnaid – based on “bláth” (flower)

Daifne / Dafnae – from the flower and the Greek “naiad” (“náiad” or “nimfeach uisce” in Irish)

Lil / Lile – from “lile” (a lily)

Nóinín – the Irish word for “daisy”

Róisín / Róis / Róise – all based on “rós” (a rose), but note that the regular word for the actual flower is “rós” with a broad “s,” not a slender “s” as in “Róise” or the derivatives

and I “sort of” add “Maighréad” / “Mairéad” because some people say it means “daisy” and other people say it means “pearl,” which is probably a sága unto itself, and will probably end up in a blogpost of its own, not today’s. Even if we don’t solve the meaning of the name Marguerite, we can at least discuss the Irish for “pearl” and the Irish for “daisy”!

Anyway, let’s start with the Bláth / Bláithín / Bláthnaid group. We’ll actually begin with “Bláithín” and “Bláthnaid,” since, in my experience, they are more widely used as names than “Bláth” itself.

Bláithín , with “Bláithíne” as a variant (not very common, i mo thaithí féin). Not often anglicized, that I’ve seen, but it can be, as “Blaheen.” I see a few, but not many, Blaheens online, one of them being a race horse (nasc thíos). It means “little flower,” with the “-ín” diminutive ending.

direct address: “A Bhláithín!

possessive: Bhláithín , of Blaheen, of Bláithín (breithlá Bhláithín)

Two prominent examples of this name are comedian Bláithín de Búrca (see her Facebook page for more) and, with some concessions to the lack of diacritical marks in English, the journalist Blathin de Paor (rsvpmagazine.com).

Next in our list:

Bláthnaid , Florence, means ” little flower,” with “-naid” being the diminutive ending. There is actually another word “bláthnaid” that means “a female stoat,” but somehow I don’t think that’s what most parents have in mind when they name their daughter “Bláthnaid.” This name may be spelled “Blánaid” or anglicized as “Blanid,” but I haven’t seen either of those very often.

I’m intrigued by the fact that Gaelic (Gàidhlig) has “Floireans,” “Flòra,” “and “Flòraidh,” as names for girls, but a quick glance through some Scottish sources doesn’t show me any names based on “blàth,” the equivalent word in that language. Hmmm? A Albanacha?

direct address: a Bhláthnaid!

possessive: Bhláthnaide , of Bláthnaid; (bláthanna Bhláthnaide) — couldn’t resist that combo!

Two variations of this name, spelled “Bláthnat” or “Bláthine” in their Old Irish forms, occur in the story of Cú Chulainn, where she is one of his lovers.

And finally for Bláth itself:

Bláth , Flora; means “flower”

direct address: A Bhláth!

possessive: Bláithe , of Flora, of Bláth. This could become “Bhláithe” in actual use, but I can’t actually find any example of this name in the possessive form, online or in a quick search of my home library, in a natural context, so the usage is actually a little unclear. At any rate, this possessive form is noticeably different from the possessive form of the word for “flower” itself, which, in contemporary Irish, at least, is “blátha” , as in “peiteal blátha” (a flower petal). To be grammatical about it, “Bláth” as a name is a second-declension noun while “bláth” as a general noun is a third-declension noun. Which may have just made your day. It did mine, anyway. How often can the same basic word be in two declensions?

It seems to me that there’s a lot of leeway for this name to overlap with the noun “bláithe,” meaning “smoothness,” “beauty,” “elegance,” or “delicacy,” but I don’t see anyone actually deriving a girl’s name this way, so maybe this idea will remain as pure speculation. Simply a nice coincidence? Barúlacha agaibhse?

Bhuel, that’s one blogpost for our next mionsraith with ainmneacha cailíní. Please stay tuned for more to come. Meanwhile, you might want to check out the previous blogs, listed below. SGF – Róislín

Nasc don searrach lárach “Blaheen”: http://www.sportinglife.com/racing/profiles/horse/32404/blaheen

Learn About Bells Of Ireland

Cercospora Leaf Blight: Small flecks which develop a yellowish halo appear on the leaves and turn brown and coalesce. They can cause the leaves to wither and die. Burpee Recommends: Remove infected plants and destroy all plant debris.

Crown Rot: Plants wilt and die back at the soil line. Burpee Recommends: Remove affected plants and do not plant in the same area.

Common Pest and Cultural Problems

Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps which feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.

Spider Mites: These tiny spider-like pests are about the size of a grain of pepper. They may be red, black, brown or yellow. They suck on the plant juices removing chlorophyll and injecting toxins which cause white dots on the foliage. There is often webbing visible on the plant. They cause the foliage to turn yellow and become dry and stippled. They multiply quickly and thrive in dry conditions. Burpee Recommends: Spider mites may be controlled with a forceful spray every other day. Try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for miticide recommendations.

Bells of Ireland FAQs

Is Bells of Ireland deer resistant? Yes, it can be deer resistant, even rabbit resistant.

Can I grow Bells of Ireland in a container? Yes, you can grow it in a large container, especially smaller varieties such as Pixie Bells.

Does Bells of Ireland self-sow? Yes, it does tend to self-sow in the garden. Allow some flowers at the end of the season to dry on the plant.

Is Bells of Ireland really from Ireland? No, it recalls the Emerald Isle as a rare green flower in the garden (actually the flowers are tiny white flowers in the green bell shaped calyxes). It is native to Turkey, Syria and the Caucasus.

by Erin Marissa Russell

Do you love the attention-grabbing glamour of flowers with tall vertical spires, like hollyhocks and larkspur? If you’re also a fan of low-key monochromatic sophistication, bells of Ireland flowers, with blooms in shades from artichoke to emerald, will make a wonderful addition to your garden’s repertoire. The plants reach two to three feet in height, making them a natural fit for the back row of your flowerbed. The summer-blooming half-hardy annual’s unique scent (reminiscent of green apples) and its suitability for fresh or dried floral arrangements give gardeners even more reasons to cultivate this chartreuse beauty.

Since 1570, bells of Ireland have been tended by horticulturists who appreciate the drama of their showy flower spikes, the lush greenness they add to a garden’s palette, and their distinctive smell. They’re still a hit today, and it’s easy to see why. The green bells stacked densely on each stalk range from three quarters of an inch to an inch and a quarter, with a tissue-paper feel and scalloped edges. Each bell hides a delicate white or pink flower that blooms once per season. Between the bells are lush leaves, each about two and a half inches long, and each bell sits atop a pair of spiny thorns.

Before we get into how to sow, grow, and care for bells of Ireland flowers, let’s dispel a few of the myths that surround this member of the mint family. First of all, the name aside, these flowers don’t hail from the Emerald Isle, though like the Irish, bells of Ireland are associated with luck. The Latin name, Moluccella laevis, is also both location-centered and misleading. Linnaeus, who named bells of Ireland, was under the impression they came from the Molucca islands in Indonesia. In actuality, these flowers come from western Asia—to be specific, Turkey, Syria, and Caucasia. Secondly, the showy green “bells” aren’t exactly the flower of the plant. The green cup-shaped parts of the bells of Ireland are actually the sepals that make up the calyx. The teeny white blooms, which look a bit like miniature orchids, sit tucked away within the bells.

Varieties of Bells of Ireland

You may see bells of Ireland called shellflower or referred to by their botanical name, Moluccella laevis. In Australia, they’re also known Molucca balm or Moluccella balm. The “Pixie Bells” cultivar grows to just 18-24 inches (as opposed to the standard two-to-three-foot size), making it an excellent choice for growing these gorgeous flowers in containers.

Growing Conditions for Bells of Ireland

Bells of Ireland are suited for USDA zones 6 through 11. They are tolerant of heat but do not thrive in climates that are both hot and humid. Some gardeners report that due to this preference, they are not easy to grow in the southern U.S.

The best spot to place bells of Ireland is in full sun, but if needed, they can be grown in partial sun. These flowers prefer their soil on the rich and loamy side, but average soil will suffice if fertilizer is applied to compensate. Choose a spot with good drainage, as bells of Ireland don’t flourish when waterlogged or starved of moisture.

Prepare soil for bells of Ireland by removing gravel and weeds, then working compost into the top six to eight inches. Finish by leveling the soil and smoothing it down. For optimal performance, test soil after each growing season to find out what adjustments are needed before the next season begins.

If compost isn’t an option, you can instead add one or two inches of mulch after planting bells of Ireland, though it’s best to wait until after seeds have germinated so they get the light they need to sprout. The mulch will break down into compost as the plants grow. Just make sure to keep mulch away from the stems to avoid problems with rot.

Gardeners in Florida and South Texas can grow bells of Ireland as a fall annual by germinating seeds in the fall. Simply refrigerate seeds for a week before sowing them along with the rest of your fall annuals.

How To Plant Bells of Ireland

While you have the option of sowing bells of Ireland directly or starting them indoors, not to mention choosing young plants from a nursery, direct sowing is recommended. These plants use a long taproot to gather nutrients from the soil, and that taproot doesn’t like to be disturbed, so transplanting can present challenges. When transplanting can’t be avoided, be as gentle with the roots as possible. If you do choose to start bells of Ireland indoors or purchase your plants and then place them in the garden, don’t expect maximum performance their first year. If allowed to self seed, the following season’s plants will be taller and more prolific.

When choosing bells of Ireland seeds, you’ll see both raw and cleaned seeds on the market. Cleaned seeds are generally recommended and easier to grow. Bells of Ireland can be fussy in the germination phase, so for best results, sow more seeds than you think you’ll need. You can always thin your plants out. Germination is often more successful outdoors than it would be indoors because these flowers enjoy chilly, wet conditions.

To speed up the germination process and increase each seed’s chances of success, prep seeds by chilling them in your refrigerator before you sow. Moisten a paper towel evenly, and place the seeds on the paper towel. Fold the towel to fit inside a plastic sandwich bag, seal the bag, and store in the refrigerator for two weeks.

To sow bells of Ireland directly where they’ll grow, plant them in the fall about a foot apart, and cover with a quarter of an inch of fine soil. Take care not to cover the seeds too much, as they need light to sprout. Instead of one seed per foot, you may choose to plant groups of three and thin to the strongest plant when seedlings start to grow. Firm the soil lightly with the palm of your hand, water it well after planting, and keep the area evenly moist. Young plants will appear in seven to 14 days if seeds have been prepped in the refrigerator. Otherwise, germination can take up to a month.

If you choose to start bells of Ireland indoors, plant them eight to 10 weeks before the last frost of the year. Young plants can resist light frost, but a sudden freeze can damage them. A seedling heat mat can speed up the process as well, if you have one on hand, but be sure to remove it as soon as germination occurs. Barely cover the seeds with soil so light can reach them. If possible, use grow lights to ensure the seeds get the light they need. Position grow lights two or three inches above the soil, and keep them on for 18 to 20 hours per day.

Water seeds and seedlings frequently, and do not let the soil dry out. Harden off young plants grown indoors by exposing them to the elements in gradually increasing blocks of time before transplanting them outdoors. Wait until overnight temperatures stay above 40 degrees Fahrenheit to move bells of Ireland to the garden.

Care for Bells of Ireland

During the growing season, bells of Ireland require about an inch of rainfall per week. If your rain gauge falls short, water the plants yourself to make up the difference. Soil for bells of Ireland should be kept evenly moist but not overly saturated. A drip or trickle irrigation system that gently adds water to soil is best, but if you use overhead sprinklers, simply water early in the day so the plants can dry before nightfall to prevent disease.

Monthly, administer a balanced water-soluble fertilizer to get the most out of your plants. Use a liquid fertilizer in early summer, and really lay it on thick to encourage lush growth. Keep weeds at bay to let bells of Ireland make the most of the soil’s nutrients.

Because these showy flowers stretch so high, you’ll need to protect them from high winds either by placing them in a spot with a windbreak, such as a fence, or by staking. Stake plants while they are still young.

If flowers are left to dry in the garden, bells of Ireland will often self seed. In fact, some gardeners say they self seed “like crazy.” Seeds are dark in color and can be either collected to plant next year or left where they fall. If you don’t want to see these flowers return year after year, be sure to harvest the flower spikes for arrangements before they have a chance to dry.

Garden Pests and Diseases of Bells of Ireland

Watch leaves for small flecks with a yellowish halo that eventually turn brown, as this sign indicates cercospora leaf blight. If plants are wilting at the soil line to finally die back, your plants may be facing crown rot.

Keep an eye out for the tiny bugs and sticky residue that point to an infestation of aphids. A healthy population of natural predators, such as lady bugs or wasps, can help keep aphids under control, as can insecticidal soap. Visible webbing on plants or yellowing, dried-out foliage can mean tiny spider mites are making a meal of your plants. Hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap should solve a spider mite problem if one crops up.

Using Bells of Ireland in Arrangements

Harvest the flowers regularly to use in fresh or dried arrangements to promote the blooming of side shoots. Bells of Ireland spires stay fresh for eight to 10 days in fresh-cut arrangements. Remove the leaves before arranging to make the bouquet even more beautiful. The stems of these stunning, spiky flowers are hollow, making them a challenge to use with floral foam, but this setback can be overcome by inserting a wire into the stem before using.

To collect bells of Ireland for fresh arrangements, cut the flower spikes when they are the desired height and when half the bells are open and green. Keep fresh arrangements in a cool, shady area for the longest vase life.

Dried bells of Ireland fade from their characteristic green shade to a pale beige. Cut the flowers for drying in mid to late summer, when they’re blooming most productively and bells are fully open. Hang the stalks in small bunches upside down in a dry, airy location until they’ve dried out completely.

Want to Learn More About Bells of Ireland?

Looking for a quick introduction to these stately plants? The link below will bring you to a slideshow of facts about Bells of Ireland that’s just over two minutes long:

If you’re trying to decide whether to grow Bells of Ireland from seed or purchase young plants, this clip examines the extra work involved with cultivating your plants from seed:

Here’s an in-depth look at the process of preparing soil and planting Bells of Ireland seeds from Carrie’s Gardening Channel, and Carrie also discusses solutions to some common problems gardeners experience:

This slideshow video shows Bells of Ireland in various arrangements and planting setups that may inspire you when it comes to companion plants, creative containers, or cut flower bouquets:

Want more reading on Bells of Ireland?

Britannica covers Bells of Ireland
Burpee covers Learn About Bells of Ireland
Calyx Flowers covers Bells of Ireland – Moluccella laevis
Team Flower covers Tips on Growing Bells of Ireland
The Gardener’s Network covers How to Grow Bells of Ireland Plants
Grower Direct covers Bells of Ireland
Grow Veg covers Bells of Ireland Growing Guide
Johnny Seeds covers Bells of Ireland
Savvy Gardening covers Growing Bells of Ireland from Seed
Southern Living covers Bells of Ireland, Shell Flower
Swallowtail Garden Seeds covers Bells of Ireland Seeds, Shellflower
The Green Thumb 2.0 covers Bells of Ireland – Plant Them Once, Have Them Forever!
University of Wisconsin-Extension Master Gardener covers Bells of Ireland, Molucella laevis

Sowing Molucella (Bells of Ireland) Seeds.

Spires of Molucella…great for cutting.

This will be my third year of growing Molucella…or as they are more commonly

Bells of Ireland seeds

know ‘Bells Of Ireland‘…three foot tall spikes of ‘bells’ the colour of that soap your Granny always used. These bells shelter tiny white flowers that eventually turn into four perfectly formed seeds.

Bells of Ireland is very useful in the vase as it acts as a perfect foil for more brightly coloured annuals whilst adding form, structure and interest in it’s own right. Not only do they have good strong stems but they last for yonks and yonks in the vase too…but remember to change the water regularly.

Higgledy Seed Shop.

How to grow ‘Bells of Ireland’

*Dig over your bed and add some organic material, home made compost is best.

*I sow early in spring, they tolerate light frosts. In fact they need a cold spell in order to get going….but you can simply pop the seeds in the fridge for a few days before sowing.

*The seeds need light to germinate, so don’t bury ‘em….but press them firmly into the soil for good contact.

*I sow a batch or two indoors at the beginning of April and then some outside May.

Bells of Ireland Seedling

*Space them a foot apart, or a little less.

*They need lots of sun…think Turkey, not Dublin.

*They need to be kept moist while they become established.

*You may need to stake the rascals otherwise they can take a tumble in a high wind…which is very tedious….I didn’t stake mine last year and they were fine.

*Bells of Ireland usually flowers in July/August but can flower until the frosts with successive sowings.

*I have heard of folk germinating seeds in the fridge…I haven’t done this myself as a fridge is for keeping beer, and rhubarb yoghurt in.

Try ‘Bells of Ireland’ with Zinnia, ‘Mammoth‘ or especially with the luscious Rudbeckia, ‘Marmalade’.

Bells of Ireland

Please let me know if you have tips with regard growing this little beauty.

Kindest regards

Benjamin

Growing Bells of Ireland from seed

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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I thought I’d tell you about one of my very favorite summer-blooming annuals: Bells of Ireland. Turns out that growing Bells of Ireland from seed is very easy. They make a great addition to the summer garden!

Why Grow Bells of Ireland?

Deceivingly simple to grow, the blossoms of Bells of Ireland, Moluccella laevis, are real crowd-pleasers. But not for their flashy color (they’re green). Instead, they garner such attention for their sheer individuality. Looking like no other flower out there, Bells of Ireland stand tall and shout out their uniqueness by just being one heck of a fun plant. They’re a fantastic addition to garden beds and have a lovely, sweet, vanilla-like fragrance. Thankfully, growing Bells of Ireland from seed is very easy.

Bells of Ireland

Growing Bells of Ireland From Seed

To grow them, sow Bells of Ireland seeds (available here) indoors under grow lights 8-10 weeks before your average last frost date, which here in Pennsylvania happens to be right around St. Patrick’s Day! Use a high quality seed-starting potting mix and simply sprinkle the seeds on top of the soil. Bells of Ireland seeds need light to germinate, so don’t cover them. Water the seeds in well and place the seed tray on a seedling heat mat to raise the soil temperature and speed germination. As soon as the Bells of Ireland seeds germinate, remove the seedling heat mat.

Set the grow lights just two to three inches above the tops of the seed flats and run them for 18-20 hours per day. Continue to water the seedlings as necessary; do not let them dry out between waterings. Every three weeks, water the seedlings with a diluted liquid organic fertilizer formulated for young plants, such as this one. Then, when the danger of frost has passed, transplant the seedlings outdoors after hardening them off.

How to Transplant Bells of Ireland Seedlings

When growing Bells of Ireland from seed, you should also be aware that the plants form a tap root and resent transplanting. Because of this, don’t disturb the roots when moving the seedlings out into the garden. And don’t be surprised if the plants are a little bit shorter than promised their first season. In subsequent seasons, when the plants return to your garden from seed dropped by the previous year’s blooms, they’ll reach their full potential.

Where to Plant Bells of Ireland

When planting Bells of Ireland, choose a location that receives full sun to partial shade. Average garden soil is best, but avoid water-logged areas or those that are excessively dry. Bells of Ireland are self-sowing so as long as you let them drop seed, they’ll return to your garden every year. Their floral spikes look quite striking in floral arrangements.

Bring the luck o’ the Irish to your garden this year with Bells of Ireland!

The first time I tried to grow them I put the seeds in plug trays and waited and waited and waited. I tried cold stratifying them in the freezer and the refrigerator, and I even tried soaking them first. Finally, I just set the plug tray outside and forgot about them. A month and a half later I saw five little sprouts between two 72 plug trays. In a moment where self-control left and frustration took over, I threw the remainder of my seeds onto the ground at the edge of my cut flower patch. And then I forgot them. In two months l saw lots of tiny bell babies happily growing where I had thrown them. That fall I direct sowed more seeds in a new bed in the field. I saw sporadic germination, but many died through the winter. In the spring I direct sowed more seed in the same spot with little result. As I was prepping the beds the following spring, I noticed tiny Bells of Ireland that had self-sowed themselves where I had thrown the seed the year before. I carefully transplanted them to a common location. There, they happily grew and fit beautifully into my bouquet subscriptions!

Bells of Ireland is an unusual annual flower.

Bells of Ireland or shellflower, Molucella laevis, is a half-hardy annual that produces unusual pale green to emerald green, funnel-shaped “bells” along green stems in summer. The persistent bells are the showy calyx (cup-shaped leaves around the base of the flowers) which surrounds tiny fragrant white flowers. The papery ¾ -1¼” bells are densely packed along most of the length of the square stems that reach 2-3 feet tall. Clusters of 2½” long leaves alternate between the bells, with pairs of small thorns or spines below each calyx.

Tiny white flowers are surrounded by a papery bell.

Despite the common name, this plant in the mint family (Lamiaceae) is not from Ireland, but is native to western Asia, around Turkey, Syria and the Caucasus. Even Linnaeus, who named the plant, was a bit confused about its origin, naming the genus after the Molucca Islands in Indonesia where it was mistakenly thought to be from. It’s supposed association with Ireland probably has to do with the color (and associated marketing potential). It has been cultivated since 1570; the flowers are a symbol of good luck. Both the flowers and rounded, pale green leaves with slightly scalloped edges have a distinctive, difficult-to-describe scent.

Old flower spikes turn brown and dry.

Bells of Ireland are nice when combined with other colorful annual flowers in the border or cutting bed. They also do well in containers, offering a vertical component. The light green color complements purple-leaved plants, or can be used in monochromatic schemes with other green-flowered plants such as Zinnia ‘Envy Double’ and Nicotiana langsdorffii, or along with bright green coleus (such as ‘Super Chartreuse’). They even look interesting late in the season when the old spikes become dry and bleached (if they haven’t been pruned out to encourage new growth).

Blooming stems can be cut to be used fresh or dried in flower arrangements. They are especially effective when used in all-foliage and contemporary arrangements. When dried, eventually the color fades to a pale beige. To dry, pick the stems when the bells are fully open and hang upside down in small bunches in a dry, airy place until fully dry.

The small, dark-colored seeds are triangular in shape.

This bedding plant is easily started from seed. Sow seeds indoors 8-10 weeks before last frost. Barely cover the seed as they need light to germinate. Germination may be slow (up to a month). To speed up germination, chill the seeds for two weeks (seal the sown seeds in a plastic bag and place in a refrigerator) first. The small plants can be transplanted outdoors once nighttime temperatures are above 40F. Place in sun to partial shade in ordinary garden soil and space about a foot apart. Bells of Ireland often self-seeds in the garden if flower stalks are left on the plants until dried. The dark colored seeds can be collected to save for sowing the following year or allowed to scatter on the ground. Small seedlings can be transplanted to other locations, if desired (although they may wilt temporarily until re-established).

(L-R): Seedling, young plant and flowering plant of Bells or Ireland.

Bells of Ireland prefers full sun and regular water. Water during drought periods and fertilize monthly for best results. They do not do well in summer in hot, humid climates. Taller spikes may need staking in windy sites. Bells of Ireland has few pest problems and is not favored by deer or rabbits.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin-Madison


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