Despite recent temperatures in the 90’s, yesterday our coastal marine layer was so dense that we didn’t see the sun all day.  Our daytime high was a mere 64 degrees.  A perfect day for weeding!

Although these weeds were removed by hand in spring, many more had emerged in the orchard since

This year we have hand weeded the orchard so we could best identify which plants are native, and which are not.  With the spring bloom season rapidly coming to a halt, we assumed we’d identified the majority of the natives growing on the slope.  If for no other reason than the onset of the fire season, it was time to attack our fading cover crop and weeds more seriously, and so the string trimmer made a rare appearance in the orchard.


California Harebell, Campanula prenanthoides (click images to enlarge)

At the foot of the orchard slope, just barely inside the deer fence, I noticed a delicate pale lavender flower…just as it was flung a few feet away from me by the trimmer.  It caught my eye as very little, other than the tar-weeds, is still blooming on this slope.  I didn’t recognize this flower, and whatever it was, it had clearly met its demise.  I set the trimmer down, and scanned the area for additional plants, but this seemed to be the only one on the entire slope.  I felt like such a brute.


Campanula prenanthoides

I picked up the remnants of the shredded plant and examined it more closely.  The delicate bell-shaped flowers were quite charming, and very unique in appearance.  As I continued weeding, and beating back the dry brush, I kept my eyes open for more of this plant, hoping to avoid it, at least until I could identify it as a native or intruder.  Finally, toward one of the creeks, I found a more substantial colony of plants blooming in moderate shade.  I was so relieved that I hadn’t obliterated the only specimens growing here.


Flower bud of Campanula prenanthoides

With some effort, I managed to identify this plant as native California Harebell, Campanula prenanthoides (syn. Asyneuma prenanthoides).


Campanula prenanthoides

Although I’d never seen it before, apparently this is a relatively common native summer wildflower in California, found from Monterey county north to southern Oregon, but it seems that relatively little has been written about it.

Dorsal view of a Campanula prenanthoides flower

This species has a preference for cool canyons and shaded slopes, along road-cuts, and on dry forest floor.  Flowers emerge from June through September, and are pale lavender blue, appearing in clusters between two to five.  Each flower has 5 petals, and 5 sepals.


The bright blue corolla of California Harebell is comprised of five petals

The style is longer than the petals, and frequently recurved at the distal end.


The distal end of the style may be recurved, as shown on this flower

The leaves are 1-2 cm long, oblong to lanceolate in shape, and coarsely serrated.


The leaves of Campanula prenanthoides are coarsely serrated

Plants can be propagated by division or from seed.  Seeds are set between August and October.

Ethnobotanical data is scant for this species, but apparently the underground bulbs were used as a winter and early spring food source by the Costanoan Indians. [1]


To be truly appreciated, the flowers are best observed up close

It seems that this species, perhaps as it is not particularly showy, is rarely offered for sale through native plant nurseries.  Knowing that we can’t easily run out and purchase more of this plant, makes the fact that it’s growing here of its own accord, that much more special.  Next time I weed the orchard, perhaps I should leave the string trimmer behind…


[1] Daniel E. Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotanical Database