St. Patrick's Day is a time to celebrate Irish culture and everything green, including leprechauns and shamrocks. While shamrock is a well-known symbol of good luck, Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis) is another interesting plant associated with good fortune.
Bells of Ireland is an annual plant in the mint family that blooms in July to September. Each fragrant, tiny white flower is surrounded by a, bell-shaped, emerald green calyx, with many "bells" tightly arranged along the floral stem. Leaves are also interspersed between the calyces, with pairs of small thorns on the square-shaped stem. Although the flowers are not showy, the calyces remain attractive for an extended period. Bells of Ireland are interesting as cut stems and can mixed with other colorful flowers in fresh or dried arrangements. For drying, cut the stems when the "bells" become rigid and hang the stalks in a dry location with good air circulation.
As luck would have it, the time to start Bell of Ireland seeds indoors is on St. Patrick's Day, which is about two months before the last frost in Missouri. Place the seed in a shallow container filled with potting medium. Barely cover the seeds with potting medium as they require light for germination.
Next, water the potting medium lightly, seal the container, and place it in a refrigerator for two weeks. Chilling the seed will enhance germination and shorten the time to seedling emergence. The latter will occur when the container is subsequently placed in a well-lighted location at 65 to 68°F after refrigeration. Seedlings can be transplanted outdoors when nighttime temperatures are consistently above 40°F. Alternatively, seeds can be placed on top of the soil outdoors in spring when the soil temperature is 50 to 60°F.
Bells of Ireland perform best in part shade to early morning sun in a well-drained soil with moderate watering during dry periods. They make attractive border plants, especially in cottage gardens, when spaced 10 to 12 inches apart. Plants grow to two to three feet-tall and tall stems may require staking for support in windy sites. When Bells of Ireland flower stalks are left on the plant, they often self-seed. The triangular-shaped seeds can be left to scatter on the soil or collected to save for planting next year. Pests are seldom problematic on Bells of Ireland, and plants are not favored by rabbits or deer.
In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, remember this slightly modified proverb, "For each flower on Bells of Ireland, this brings a wish your way: good health, good luck, and happiness for today and every day."