Creeping Bellflower: The Zombie Weed

Creeping Bellflower: The Zombie Weed 

by Rob Sproule

I recently read Max Brooks’ page-turning unread romp, “World War Z.”  The book is a mediation of what a global zombie plague, and our subsequent reaction to it, would look like.

In the book, infected victims don’t become zombies right away.  It take days; time enough for them to mingle with you and become accepted as just another human.  That is, until they eat you.

Zombies spread inexorably because as long as one survives, its sole determination is to spread and begin the plague anew.  Their absolute focus on creating more of themselves is what makes them so hard to eradicate and so easy to spread like wildfire.

As I was read, the zombie behavior smacked as oddly familiar.  The other day, when a customer came in with a familiarly sealed ‘Safeway’ bag and told me that a volunteer flower plant in her garden which seemed to be spreading quite quickly, I realized why.  She said that its pretty blue flowers have made it hard to pull, but this year they seem to be sprouting up everywhere.  I didn’t have to open the bag to know that she had a zombie weed outbreak.


Pretty can be Evil, too

The creeping bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) produces clear blue, trumpet shaped flowers along a tall, stately stem.  Upon seeing its spontaneous blooms in your perennial bed for the first time your reaction will probably be, “I didn’t plant that but it’s pretty enough to leave alone.”

Bellflowers aren’t native to Canada and were introduced from Europe as an ornamental plant.  If you search online, you will astonishingly find this plant for sale, and sites like ‘Dave’s Garden’ contain posts from people who rave about buying or finding this blue treasure.  Most of the reviews, however, are warnings.

For the first couple years, it will be pretty and deceivingly well-behaved.  But 8″ beneath the surface it’s building a rhizomal substructure that is shuffling under flower beds, lawn, and garden alike.

By the time you notice it’s a problem, zombies are sprouting over your yard.  The heart shaped leaves appear en masse in perennial beds and lawns and quickly choke out any resident plants.

Creeping bellflower thrives in dry or wet soils, full sun or full shade.  It can lay dormant for years and, if there are no insects to pollinate, it will pollinate itself to make seeds.

It spreads by both rhizome and seed, and any shred of rhizome is enough to create a new, single-minded army of weeds.  Each can produce 3,000 seeds and each comes equipped with wings for drifting across fences to quickly plague entire blocks and neighbourhoods.

Creeping Bellflower has recently been listed as a noxious weed and bylaw officers are out in force this year, issuing thousands of citations to clean up infested yards.  If cited, home-owners have 10 days to clean up or a contractor will do it to the tune of a few brown bills.


Controlling It

Most importantly, if you see a pretty blue flower appear unexpectedly, yank it out!  There are several other Campanulas which boast the same clear blue flowers and won’t drive you to distraction.

You can slow the spread by pulling them before they bloom.  This will stop the spread of seeds and will start to deprive the rhizome of the photosynthesized nutrients sustaining it.

Always check the ingredients on wildflower seed packages, as it’s been known to find its way into the mix.  Never buy wildflower seed packs that don’t list all the species inside.

Don’t bother spraying ‘Kill-Ex’ on it.  Creeping Bellflower is immune to 2,4-D (the active ingredient).  ‘Round-Up’, containing glyphosphate, will slow it down but, in the process, will kill everything green it touches and, yes, the zombies will keep coming.

The rhizomes run so deep that you would have to excavate almost a foot of earth to reach them, and even so if there is even one shred left it will create a new batch of zombies.  The best control is good old-fashioned pulling of every one you see.  It will take time, but you’ll slow them down and, over years, severely weaken the rhizome.

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12 thoughts on “Creeping Bellflower: The Zombie Weed”

  1. I have struggled with this campanula for years . My own fault – we dug it up and brought it home from the flower bed of an old teacher’s house, so my family calls it “Mrs. Raeslar’s plant”. I have got stubborn and determined to get rid of it. I dug and dug, putting all the dirt In a wheelbarrow to haul away. A hole – no exaggeration- 3 feet deep and 3 feet wide. I thought I had it all but one last check with my shovel found another rhizome, the size of a large parsnip, which when I dug it out, was a good 10 inches long. Then I gave up trying to dig them out. They might go all the way to China! Now I just pull the leaves as they appear. Also, I truly understand the meaning if the word ” invasive”!!

  2. Is there a difference in root structure between clustered bellflower and creeping bellflower as I believe they have the same leaf structure.

  3. We pulled all the creeping bellflowers from our yard last year when the city issued the warming but they are back even stronger this year and we’re still yanking them out!!!

    I’d like to know the answer to the clustered bellflower question too. Are they also a ‘weed’? We have them in our yard as well…

  4. We pulled all the creeping bellflowers from our yard last year when the city issued the warming but they are back even stronger this year and we’re still yanking them out!!!

    I’d like to know the answer to the clustered bellflower question too. Are they also a ‘weed’? We have them in our yard as well…

  5. I hope that the lovely Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) is not mistakenly yanked out as a creeping bellflower (C. Rapunculoides). The flowers of both are quite similar. All campanulas have some rhizome activity – we gardeners need to actively care for & control plants growing in our gardens.

  6. I just pulled mine out too. Did not have more than a couple. I hope I got them in time. However, I noticed after reading this article, how they are showing up all over the place in our backlanes. I’m wondering how many people are aware of this new menace.

  7. I had this plant in my yard in BC.I did not plant and I never did get rid of it. I tried round up, I dug it up and cut into the root and pour vinegar on it. It slowed down but I still had to constantly pull the leaves. It then started growing in the cracks of my cement. I don’t think you can ever get rid of it for good. Now that I live in Alberta I am very careful what goes in my garden. Good luck to the poor people that have this horrible plant.

  8. My daughter has been pulling and digging out this menace for years. It had lain dormant under a carpet for years (former owners put it on top of the soil). She’s tried intimidating it with bad language with no success. Unfortunately the next door neighbours refuse to do anything with the creeping bellflower in the bed next to her fence. So she just keeps pulling, digging and swearing.

  9. Our front lawn is completely infested with it. Unfortunately it came with the house when we bought it. If weedkillers won’t do it, I don’t know what will, short of ripping up the entire lawn a foot down I guess. For now we just mow them when we see the flowers.

  10. Rob, can you suggest some other perrenials that we can plant in its place. After reading your article I am devasted as they were filling in my perrenial quite nicely. I am now in the process of pulling them all up. The bees have been having a field day in our backyard so at least I feel there is some good coming out of this pesky plant.

  11. In the May 2014 issue of Canadian Gardening, Stephen Westcott-Gratton wrote an article about growing Elizabethan vegetables and one that he recommended was Campanula rapunculus. The bellflower we have everywhere in our neighbourhood is C. rapunculoides. They look almost identical… which is apparently what rapunculoides means. Research indicates that the roots of C. rapunculoides are edible. Can you shed any light on this? Perhaps instead of poisoning the stupid things, we could just eat them.

  12. Is monks hood the same as zombie I had monks hood for years but instead of violet color they are now light blue

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