Moluccella laevis
Common Name: bells of Ireland
Type: Annual
Family: Lamiaceae
Native Range: Caucasus, Turkey, Syria, Iraq
Zone: 2 to 11
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 1.50 feet
Bloom Time: July to September
Bloom Description: White flowers in green calyces
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Annual
Flower: Showy, Fragrant, Good Cut, Good Dried
Other: Thorns

Culture

Cool weather annual that is easily grown in loose, moderately fertile, evenly moist, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates some light shade. Tolerates poor soils as long as drainage is sharp. Seed can be sown in the garden a few weeks before the last spring frost date. In warm winter areas, seed may be sown in fall. Seed may also be started indoors about 8-10 weeks before last spring frost date, but this method often does not produce the best plants. Plants perform best in cool summer climates. Apply fertilizer for larger spikes. Plants may sprawl if not promptly staked. Plants may self-seed in the garden unless stems are cut prior to seed formation.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Moluccella laevis, commonly called bells of Ireland, is most noted for producing a mid-summer to fall bloom of showy flower spikes featuring fragrant but tiny white flowers of little ornamental significance encased by large, showy, cup-shaped, green calyces. Calyces are densely packed along each flower spike from top nearly to base. Bloom occurs in mid-summer, with the calyces remaining attractive to late summer before turning beige. Calyces turn somewhat papery as seed begins to form. This mint family annual typically grows to 2-3’ tall on branching square stems clad with ovate, crenate, light green leaves (to 2 1/2” long). Tiny stem thorns are sharp to the touch. This is an excellent plant for fresh cut or dried flower arrangements. For dried flowers, it is best to cut flower stems prior to seed ripening and hang the stems in bunches in dry places with good air circulation. Bells of Ireland (bell-shaped calyces) is native from the eastern Mediterranean to India, but not Ireland. The Ireland part of the common name is in probable reference to the green color of the calyces. Additional common names include lady-in-the-bathtub (flower in the calyx), shell flower (shell-like calyx) and molucca balm (Molucca Islands).

Genus name is in reference to the Moluccca Islands off Indonesia where plants were once thought to be native.

Specific epithet means smooth.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Plants generally dislike the heat and humidity of St. Louis summers.

Garden Uses

Annual or mixed borders. Cutting gardens.