The harebell family contains mostly perennial plants, although
some are annual or biennial, but hardly any shrubs. Plants
of this family are found in most parts of the world except
Africa, although the majority are found in the temperate regions.
There are about about 70 genera and 2000 species worldwide.
The flowers are most usually blue. It is the flowers which
give this plant family its name. Campanula is Latin for bell,
and the majority of the flowers are bell-shaped to some degree.
They may be long tubular bells, or open starry shapes. The
flower parts are in fives - this is most noticeable in the
five points at the end of the bell, and the five points to
the sepals (calyx). Flowers occur in all shades of blue, and
in mauves, purples, white, and rarely pink or cream.
There is a variety of leaf shapes in this family, although
they are undivided. They may be kidney-shaped, oval, round,
or like a nettle. The stem varies with the size and type of
the plant - it may be woody, wiry or brittle. The root is
often a tuber or at least fleshy.
Each single flower can produce thousands of seeds. They usually
form in three chambers in the seed capsule, and are usually
Pretty flowers are not the only potential benefit from this
group. Many species produce chemical compounds in wide variety.
Some of these compounds are highly toxic, but others have
been used to treat asthma and other breathing disorders. Perhaps
the best known compound is lobeline, a mild narcotic which
provides the slight rush and calming effect of nicotine, but
which does not appear to be addictive. As such, it can be
used as an aid to quit smoking, though its sale is now regulated
in some countries.