Flowers of Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower)
Flowers of Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower)

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) - Description & Uses

The plant Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) is a special ornamental species – and not only -, with wonderful appearance flowers, both during the phase of their formation and in their full growth.

It is the only member of the genus Platycodon (monotypic), being known in the Far East for hundreds of years, where it is utilized in various ways, which we hope, look forward to and seek (unjustly) to record in this article.

It became known in the West through the Scottish botanist Robert Fortune (September 16, 1812 – April 13, 1880), who introduced Platycodon plants on behalf of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) to its garden in Chiswick – now a district of west London.

Fortune collected the plants after a systematic expedition to the coast of China, and Balloon Flower, being a garden attraction for Londoners, gained great popularity, which over time contributed to its global spread.

… But more about the plant immediately after.

The photo clearly shows the visible reproductive parts of the flower, as the stamens and 5-lobed stigma.

Close-up View to Male & Female Parts of Flower of Chinese Bellflower
Close-up View to Male & Female Parts of Flower of Chinese Bellflower
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Balloon Flower Origin

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) - Map of Origin
Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) - Map of Origin

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) – Description & Uses

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) - Brief Description

Family: Campanulaceae

GenusPlatycodon

Scientific Name: Platycodon grandiflorus (Jacq.) A.DC.

Common Name: Balloon Flower, Chinese Bellflower, Common Balloon Flower, Japanese Bellflower

General Characteristics

Leaf Persistence

Deciduous

Form

Upright / Round

Texture

Medium

Growth Rate

Moderate

Flowering Period

Summer to Early Autumn

Fruiting Period

August – October

Height

0.3-1 m (1-3.5 ft)

Diameter

0.15-0.45 m (0.5-1.5 ft)

Shapes and Colours

Leaves Shape

Ovate

Foliage Colour

Green

Autumn Foliage Colour

Purple or Yellow-Purple

Flowers Shape

Bell-Shaped

Flowers Colour

Blue

Fruit

Capsule

Plantation

Soil Type: Well-drained, sandy, loamy

Exposure: Sun

Soil pH: 5.6-7.3

Watering: Moderate

Hardiness: −31 °C (-25 °F – USDA Hardiness Zone 4b)

Uses

Mass planting, gardens, pots and containers

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) – Description & Uses

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) - Etymology

Etymology of the Genus Name

The genus name is a compound Neo-Latin word. The first part of it, the platy- prefix, comes from the Ancient Greek word πλατύς (platús), which means flat, but also wide, broad and level, and which originates from the Proto-Indo-Europeans *pléth₂us < *pleth₂-, where the meaning of the latter is flat.

The second part codon comes from the also Ancient Greek word  κώδων‎ (kṓdōn‎) which means bell. It is unknown further etymology, since it is most likely to have Pre-Greek origin.

Etymology of the Species Name

And the name of the species is a compound Neo-Latin word, consisting of the Latin grandis + flōs.

The first of these, grandis, which means large, great, grand, and powerful, mentioned to have come from the Proto-Indo-European *gʰer-, which is interpreted as rub, grind.

The second word flōs comes from the Proto-Italic *flōs, whose distant origin – not mentioned but in fact – goes back to the Proto-Indo-European root * bʰleh₃-, which means bloom, and flower.

In conclusion, it could be said that the name of the plant Platycodon grandiflorus is one of the most successful botanically, as it demonstrates its basic characteristics – while  thrills of excitement, due to this great event, penetrate all through its entire editorial team of "Kalliergeia".

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) – Description & Uses

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) - Origin & Life Span

Origin

The place of origin of Chinese Bellflower is located in a wide area of the Far East including:

  • Southeastern Siberia
  • Korea (North and South)
  • Japan
  • Central, eastern, northeastern and southwestern China
  • And Taiwan – which is also the southernmost part of the plant’s natural distribution range (along with Hong Kong)

Its natural populations thrive in sunny grasslands and steppes, where they form plant communities mainly together with other herbaceous plants, while they are not absent – although rarely found – from the forest glades. Its altitude distribution is large, since it starts from sea level and reaches up to 2,000 m.

Life Span

Chinese Bellflower is included in the long-lived herbaceous perennials, having a rather encouraging for the plant lovers life span, which reaches 20 or more years.

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) – Description & Uses

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) - Landscape Attributes

Chinese Bellflower is a herbaceous perennial deciduous plant, small to medium in size and moderate growth rate.

It usually has an erect habit and a globose shape, with medium density and textured foliage, and mostly normal outline.

The main decorative element of the plant are its extremely beautiful bell-shaped blue flowers, even in the phase of their formation, when they appear as peculiar greenish "balloons".

The long and abundant flowering of Platykodon makes it particularly useful, since under suitable conditions it lasts from 90 to 120 days.

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) – Description & Uses

A 1786 CE Coloured Engraving of Chinese Bellflower by Franz Anton von Scheidel (1731-1801)
A 1786 CE Coloured Engraving of Chinese Bellflower by Franz Anton von Scheidel (1731-1801)

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) - Botanical Description

Root

The plant has a taproot, which is conical or cylindrical in shape and is white in color. Its dimensions range between 5 to 20 cm in length, and 1 to 2 cm in diameter.

Its anthropomorphic appearance is a special feature, somewhat reminiscent the root of species of the genus Mandragora (Mandragora spp.).

Stems

The stems of the plant are erect, glabrous, or rarely densely puberulent as well as branched at the top. They have a green or yellowish-green color, and their length starts from 20 cm, sometimes reaching up to 120 cm.

If a stem is cut, white juice flows out.

Leaves

The leaves of Balloon Flower are simple and have ovate, elliptic, ovate-elliptic, or lanceolate shape, with a length ranging between 2 to 7 cm and a width ranging between 0.5 and 3.5 cm.

The rather thick lamina is adaxially green and has a glabrous surface, while abaxially it is glaucous and has a mostly glabrous surface, although sometimes appeared puberulent along the veins.

The leaves end at an acute or acuminate apex, the margins are serrate, and the base is broadly cuneate or rounded.

They are exstipulate, and sessile, emerging directly from the stems, on which they appear in worled or alternate arrangement.

Flowers

The flowers are simple, pentamerous, hermaphrodite, perigynous and protandrous.

The bell-shaped corolla consisting of 5 triangular-shaped petals, the colour of which is blue (rarely white or pink), and its length is between 2.5 and 4 cm, and the diameter between 2 and 7 cm.

The stamens are 5, have light blue filaments, obvious  flattened at the base and pubescent, while they have long pale yellow anthers. The  5-carpelate ovary is half-inferior and 5 locular, initially having a short blue style, which then becomes elongated-filamentous, having at the top of the 5-lobed white stigma.

The glabrous, glaucous-green calyx consists of 5 sepals (rarely 6), joined to about half their length, where they then show a triangular shape, curving slightly outwards.

Pollination

Pollination is carried out mainly by insects (entomophilous species). However, through a wonderful process, although the plant is protandrous (ie the male portion of the flower matures first), if the flower is not pollinated, then the receptive surfaces of the stigma, thanks to the curle back of its lobes, come in contact with the pollen that remains in the puberulent part of the style, and in this way the flower is self-pollinated.

Fruit & Seeds

The brown fruit is a five-valved type capsule, globose, sub-globose or obovoid in shape, with a length ranging between 0.7 and 2.5 cm and a diameter ranging between 0.7 and 1.5 cm.

Numerous black seeds are oval, flattened, have a narrow wing, and are smooth and shiny. In terms of dimensions, their length is between 2 and 2.5 mm, and their width is between 1 and 1.5 mm.

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) – Description & Uses

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) - Climate & Soil

Temperature

The plant adapts to a remarkably wide range of temperatures.

The lowest to which it can be exposed, without showing damage, are between −28.9 and −31.7 °C (−20 to −25 °F).

Its defence against the freezing conditions is organized with the loss of entire overground part during the winter period, to regrowth next spring.

On the other hand, high temperatures up to 36 °C (96.8 °F) do not affect it in the slightest.

Soil and pH

Facilitating the plant lovers, Platykodon established in several soil types, with the exception of heavy and wet soils.

The light and medium textured, in turn, facilitate the plant to grow – that is, the sandy and clayey, which retain the necessary moisture and at the same time show excellent drainage.

As for the reaction of the soil, the soil pH, this can be moderately acidic to slightly alkaline, taking values between 5.6 and 7.3. However, the optimum pH range for plant cultivation is between 6 and 6.5.

Exposure

Chinese Bellflower seeks sunny places, for its smooth growth and normal flowering. But if the plant is to be planted in areas where summer temperatures are extremely high, then it is advisable to install it in partial shade.

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) - Pests & Diseases

Obviously having excellent public relations, Balloon Flower does not face problems from pests or diseases. And the few parasites mentioned here, for the most part, also do public relations, so as not to be accused of discrimination against other plant species. As for the Snails and Slugs, they prove once again that they completely lack aesthetic criteria.

Pests

Immediately below are recorded the most important pests of the Platycodon grandiflorus.

Various Insects
  • Aleyrodes lonicerae (Strawberry Whitefly)
  • Frankliniella occidentalis (Western Flower Thrips)
  • Trialeurodes vaporariorum (Glasshouse Whitefly)
Nematodes
  • Pratylenchus penetrans (Northern Root Lesion)

By using the appropriate insecticides, their treatment is satisfactory, while the control of the nematodes is extremely difficult to impossible.

Diseases

After the pests, the recording of the diseases follows.

Fungi
  • Botrytis cinerea (Damping-Off)
  • Fusarium
  • Verticillium dahliae (Verticillium Wilt)
  • Stemphylium platycodontis (Leaf Blight of Tomato)
Viruses
  • TSWV – Tomato Spotted Wilt Orthotospovirus (Tomato Spotted Wilt)

By the timely use of appropriate fungicides, the treatment of fungi is satisfactory, while the control of the virus is impossible.

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) – Description & Uses

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) - Toxicity & Allergenicity

Toxicity

Both the root and the older leaves of Balloon Flower, and especially those near its base, are toxic. This is slightly paradoxical for a plant that consumes both of its above-mentioned toxic parts as food – but it is not at all paradoxical that simple techniques have been developed to neutralize their toxicity before being eaten.

Allergenicity

The plant, as entomophilous, it does not cause allergic reactions by its pollen.

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) – Description & Uses

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) - Varieties & Cultivars

A fairly widespread planetary plant, has given the opportunity to breeders to present numerous new varieties.

Thus, next to the single flowers of the typical species with the blue colors, they have appeared double ones, while at the same time the color palette of the flowers has expanded, now having differentiated blue, blue-purple, purple, pink and white.

Even the size of the flowers offered increased, as the diameter of some of them reaches up to 9 cm.

Immediately below are listed some of the most interesting varieties of Chinese Bellflower.

Varieties & Cultivars of the Species

Platycodon grandiflorus ‘Astra Double Blue’

Extremely interesting variety, ‘Astra Double Blue’ has large double flowers with a diameter of about 7 cm, the color of which is pale purple (lavender). Characteristic of the plant is that it is a dwarf, as its height does not exceed 20 cm.

Platycodon grandiflorus 'Astra Double Blue' Variety
Platycodon grandiflorus 'Astra Double Blue' Variety

Platycodon grandiflorus ‘Astra Pink’

The ‘Astra Pink’ variety has single flowers of light pink color, with a size that reaches about 7 cm. As for the size of the plant itself, it is also a dwarf since it does not exceed 20 cm in height and diameter.

Platycodon grandiflorus 'Astra Pink' Variety
Platycodon grandiflorus 'Astra Pink' Variety

Platycodon grandiflorus ‘Hakone White’

‘Hakone White’ variety is a large plant, with a height between 0.8 and 1 m. Its double and white color flower is also large, since its diameter reaches up to 8 cm.

Platycodon grandiflorus 'Hakone White' Variety
Platycodon grandiflorus 'Hakone White' Variety

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) – Description & Uses

A Bee on a Flower of Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower)
A Bee on a Flower of Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower)

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) - Uses

Ethnobotany

The ethnobotanical use of the plant is reflected in traditional medical systems, such as Chinese and Korean.

Therapeutically, the root is used as an anthelmintic, antiasthmatic, anticholesterolemic, antiphlogistic, antitussive, astringent, carminative, expectorant, haemolytic, hypoglycaemic, sedative, tonic and vermifuge.

In Korea, 4-year-old roots are given to treat bronchitis, asthma, pulmonary tuberculosis, diabetes and various inflammatory diseases.

In China it is used as an expectorant and antitussive to treat coughs, colds, sore throats, tonsillitis and chest congestion.

Pharmaceutical

The traditional therapeutic use of the plant was justified by modern pharmacological research. The roots of Platykodon contain the substances Platikodin – a form of Saponins. Platikodine show action:

  • Antioxidant
  • Anticancer
  • Antiobese and Hypolipidemic
  • Antiallergic
  • Antimicrobial
  • Neuroprotective (in Alzheimer’s disease -AD, and in all types of dementia)

Ornamental Use in Garden and Landscape

The balloon flower is is extremely interesting in gardening and landscape architecture – using both its typical species and its numerous varieties.

  • In particular, it is utilized:
  • As a potted plant, in gardens, courtyards and balconies
  • In mixed borders
  • In groups or in mass plantings in gardens, parks, squares
  • Combined with other ornamental plants such as Flat Sea Holly (Eryngium planum), Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia uvaria), Orange Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida) and Getty White Agapanthus (Agapanthus praecox ‘Getty White’)

References

The References to the article with the radically distinct and jealous title Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) – Description & Uses are presented by an unidentified Korean musical ensemble, with the country’s traditional song "Doraji Taryeong" or simply 도라지 – which is translated as the "Song of the Platykodon".

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