Common bluets, a.k.a. Quaker ladies or azure bluets, (Houstonia caerulea) are tiny, blue wildflowers that are native throughout most of eastern North America. There are several other species of bluets that also grow within parts of eastern North America, but common bluet is arguably the most widespread and common species overall. Common bluets grow naturally in open woods with somewhat moist, usually slightly acidic soils.
The growth form of common bluets is very light and airy. The vegetation consists of a basal roseate that stays on the ground and maybe a few small leaves along the thin, green flower stems that emerge from the basal roseate. The entire plant typically doesn’t get much more than about 6-inches tall, and they tend to grow in small clumps.
Common bluets are relatively early spring wildflowers. Where I’m at in Kentucky, they typically bloom from late March / early April through June. The flowers are small (often smaller than your fingernail) and appear to almost float above the ground because their stems are so thin. Each flower has four petals and can range in color from pale blue to almost white. The base of the petals connect to form a short tube that is highlighted by bright yellow.
Pollinator and Wildlife Uses:
Common bluets produce both nectar and pollen. Their short flower tubes make their nectar accessible to our short-tongued native bees. Quite a few species of native bees including small carpenter bees and some of our sweat bees will visit common bluets. Several of our smaller species of early butterflies will also visit common bluets.
Incorporating Common Bluets into Your Yard
I often see common bluets growing in old cemeteries, semi-shaded parks and picnic areas, or in the yards of well-established, mature communities. In all of these cases, the bluets would have come in on their own and established themselves naturally. I think the delicate dots and patches of blue growing around the base of the trees or scattered throughout the grassy areas can be very pretty. Occasionally, they’ll almost form a carpet of little blue flower that dance in the wind.
When it comes to incorporating common bluets into your yard, you may get lucky and have them just “appear.” I love the fact that this is a native wildflower where that is possible, as is evidenced by all the places you can find them growing where they obviously weren’t planted. If they are in your yard, wait until after they have seeded out before mowing them down.
If you aren’t lucky enough to have them appear naturally in your yard, then you can sometimes find seeds for them online. I haven’t tried to grow them from seed, but the resources I’ve found say that they need to either undergo a natural winter or go through a cold, moist stratification period to simulate a winter. (In other words, don’t plant them in the spring and expect them to come up that year.)
When planting common bluets in your yard, look for partly shady areas where the grass is kind of sparse. They probably won’t compete well in a thick, grass yard. They are especially pretty in rock gardens, between the stones in a path, mixed in with moss, and near the base of trees. If you have one of those yards that is just shady enough that the grass is thin and interspersed with moss, then that’s the type of place which could potentially have an absolutely gorgeous carpet of common bluet flowers scattered throughout your yard in the spring.
Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.