(excluding Lobeliaceae)Bell flower family
A cosmopolitan family of mostly herbs with relatively large, showy flowers predominantly blue in colour; some genera are endemic to South Africa (Merciera, Roella, Theilera).
Found mainly in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere with fewer species in South America, southern Africa and Australasia. Within southern Africa the family is widespread with the highest diversity in the Western Cape.
Number of genera in the world
Number of species in the world
ca. 1 046
Number of genera in the Flora of southern Africa region
Number of species in the Flora of southern Africa region
Well-known southern African genera
Mostly annual and perennial herbs or shrublets, seldom shrubs or trees.
Mostly found in open habitats, e.g. grassland, fynbos and semi-arid regions; from mountaintops to coastal flats.
Craterocapsa tarsodes (carpet bell flower) is a mat-forming herb with lance-shaped leaves and bell-shaped flowers. The stems are short, ending in rosettes of leaves. The blue or white flowers are borne in the axils of the leaves during summer. This species is found on rocky outcrops and stony grassland all along the Drakensberg escarpment between altitudes of 1 200 and 2 500 m. (Photo: JK).
Significance of the family
Members of the family are used as garden ornamentals (*Campanula, *Symphyandra, Wahlenbergia). In the past, a few Wahlenbergia species were used as a vegetable in Europe. In Chinese medicine the roots of *Codonopsis are used as a tonic. Traditional use of Wahlenbergia in southern Africa includes treatment of stomach ailments and use as protective charms. In Namaqualand, Wahlenbergia species contribute considerably to the flower display during spring, especially towards the end of the flowering season.
Plants usually contain milky latex ‹. Leaves simple, mostly alternate without stipules . Regular flowers borne in racemes or cymes; flowering parts usually pentamerous with the bell-shaped corolla consisting of 5 fused petals . Anthers free . Calyx tube fused with the inferior ovary ‹, often crowned by an annular nectary. Fruit usually a dehiscent capsule (indehiscent in Merciera), often crowned by persistent calyx lobes , rarely a berry.
Did you know?
The corolla lobes show 'sleeping' movements-flowers open at midmorning and close in late afternoon. Some wasps and bees use the closed flowers for shelter during the night.