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Campanula thyrsoides (yellow bellflower)

Yellow bellflower is unusual amongst the campanulas in having yellow flowers, and is considered rare in many alpine countries.

Flowers of yellow bellflower

Close up of Campanula thyrsoides

Species information

Scientific name: 

Campanula thyrsoides L.

Common name: 

yellow bellflower

Conservation status: 

Considered to be rare in many countries, but can be abundant in the local areas where it does occur, and hence is not considered to be endangered on a global basis.

Habitat: 

Dry alpine meadows and grassy slopes, with a moderate disturbance regime; usually on limestone.

Key Uses: 

Ornamental.

Known hazards: 

None known.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Asteranae
Order: 
Asterales
Family: 
Campanulaceae
Genus: Campanula

About this species

There are over 300 species of Campanula (bellflower), most of which have purple to blue, or sometimes white or pink, flowers. Campanula thyrsoides is hence unusual in having yellow flowers. Although traditionally considered a biennial (flowering and dying after two years), it usually flowers after eight years in the wild, and grows even older at higher altitudes. C. thyrsoides was described by the Swedish botanist and ‘father of modern taxonomy’ Carl Linnaeus in his pivotal publication Species Plantarum, in 1753.

Synonym: 

Campanula macrorhiza var. thyrsoides

Genus: 
Campanula

Discover more

Geography and distribution

Campanula thyrsoides at Kew Gardens

Native to the European Alps, Balkan Mountains and Dinaric Alps (where it occurs in France, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Bulgaria). It has been found at 1,010-2,900 m (most commonly at 1,600-2,200 m) above sea level.

Description

A hapaxanthic (flowering only once before dying) perennial with a thick, fleshy taproot, usually 20-40 cm long but up to 1 m. All parts of the plant contain sticky, milky latex. The narrow, stiffly hairy leaves form a rosette at ground level. The leaves that develop during the summer are shorter than those that develop during the spring.

The unbranched flowering stem bears numerous narrow leaves and is 10-100 cm tall, with a covering of bristly hairs. Each flowering stem bears 50-200 tubular, upright, bell-shaped, pale-yellow flowers, 15-25 mm long, which are crowded near the top of the stem.

The flowers are insect-pollinated; bumblebees are the main pollinators.

Threats and conservation

Although considered rare throughout its native range, yellow bellflower is locally abundant. It is protected in Germany, and regionally in some parts of Austria and Switzerland. Campanula thyrsoides is listed in national Red Lists (according to IUCN criteria) as follows:

  • Austria - ‘Near Threatened’
  • Bulgaria - ‘Endangered’
  • Croatia - ‘Strictly Protected’
  • France - ‘Least Concern’
  • Germany - ‘Vulnerable’
  • Switzerland - ‘Least Concern’ (but regionally ‘Vulnerable’ or ‘Near Threatened’)

Uses

Yellow bellflower is occasionally grown as an unusual ornamental for the alpine house or rock garden. It has no known medicinal uses.

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

Hand-coloured engraving by Sydenham Edwards of Campanula thyroids, taken from Curtis's Botanical Magazine.

Description of seeds: Seeds are flattened
Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: One
Seed storage behaviour: 100 % germination was achieved on a 1% agar medium, at a temperature of 16°C, and a cycle of 12 hours daylight/12 hours darkness

Cultivation

Because yellow bellflower is cultivated as a biennial, it is important that the seeds are collected and sown every second year. The plants thrive in well-drained soil in full sun, with some feeding in the first year of growth to build up a strong plant for flowering.

This species at Kew

Yellow bellflower can be seen most years in the Davies Alpine House or Rock Garden at Kew.

Illustration from Curtis's Botanical Magazine

Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (Editor: Martyn Rix) provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.

Now well over 200 years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants. Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.

Published for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by Blackwell Publishing.

Find out more about Curtis’s Botanical Magazine

References and credits

Fedorov, A. & Kovanda, M. (1976). Campanulaceae. In: Flora Europaea, Volume 4, ed. T.G. Tutin, V.H. Heywood et al., pp. 74-93. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Kuss, P., Ægisdóttir, H.H. & Stöcklin, J. (2007). The biological flora of Central Europe: Campanula thyrsoides L. Perspect. Plant Ecol., 9: 37-51.

Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. (2008) Seed Information Database (SID). Version 7.1. Available online (accessed 15 February 2011).

Sims, J. (1810). Campanula thyrsoidea [sic]. Curtis’s Bot. Mag. 32: t. 1290.

World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2011). Campanula thyrsoides. Published by the Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Available online (accessed on 14 February 2011).

Kew Science Editor: Martyn Rix
Kew contributors: Steve Davis (Sustainable Uses Group)
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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