Walking through a bluebell wood is one of my earliest memories of the wonders of nature. Native bluebells (Hyacinthoides nonscripta) also known as Wild Hyacinths in Scotland, are one of the most stunning sights in the British countryside, and in 2002, they were voted the UK’s favourite wild flower. A bluebell wood is a wood which in spring has a carpet of bluebells underneath a newly forming leaf canopy. The thicker the summer canopy, the more competitive ground-cover is suppressed, encouraging a dense carpet of bluebells, whose leaves mature and die down by early summer. Bluebell displays can be found all over the UK and the best time to see them is in late April and May. Some will flower earlier or later depending on their location and local climate. Bluebell woods are found in all parts of Great Britain and Ireland, as well as elsewhere in Europe. Bluebells are a common indicator species for ancient woodland, so bluebell woods are likely to date back to at least 1600. More on Wikipedia
Note: The native Bluebell in the UK is Hyacinthoides non-scripta. This is now under threat from the non-native Spanish Bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, and what appears to be a hybrid of Spanish and native, Hyacinthoides x massartiana. 25-50% of Hyacinthoides non-scripta is the world are found in the UK (NHM).
- Bluebell woods – Woodland Trust Includes an interactive map to find a bluebell wood near you.
- An online survey of bluebells in the UK “There are three types of bluebell in the UK (two species and a hybrid)”. Natural History Museum
- Download Plantlife’s Bluebells of Britain leaflet to find out how you can identify the different types. Excellent “The Spanish Bluebell, commonly grown in our gardens (see opposite), is more vigorous than our native species and can readily crossbreed with the native to create a fertile hybrid. This is a problem, as crossbreeding dilutes the unique characteristics of our native Bluebell. In a recent study, conducted by Plantlife volunteers across the UK, one in six broadleaved woodlands surveyed were found to contain the hybrid or Spanish Bluebell.”
- BBC – Gardeners’ World: A passion for bluebells “In Elizabethan times bluebell bulbs were crushed to provide starch for the ruffs of collars and sleeves. All parts of the bluebell are poisonous; make sure you seek medical advice if any parts are ingested, although Badgers have been known to eat the bulbs. In ancient times the sticky sap from the bluebell leaves was used for attaching feathers to arrows.”
- The Elizabethans called it Jacinth and used the sticky juice from crushed bulbs to stick paper. In English folklore was said to call the fairies to their meetings. People also would not walk through a field of bluebells because they believed it to be enchanted and that the fairies would spirit them away – never to be seen by human eye again. And take heed a warning: Should any one be so unlucky as to actually hear the bluebells ringing then they will die within a year. Here Mersey World Folklore
- A field of bluebells was thought to be associated with fairy enchantments.
In the United Kingdom the common bluebell is a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Landowners are prohibited from removing common bluebells on their land for sale and it is a criminal offence to remove the bulbs of wild common bluebells. This legislation was strengthened in 1998 under Schedule 8 of the Act making any trade in wild common bluebell bulbs or seeds an offence. Wikipedia
The bluebell in literature
- Emily Bronte
The Bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air:
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit’s care.
There is a spell in purple heath
Too wildly, sadly dear;
The violet has a fragrant breath,
But fragrance will not cheer,
The trees are bare, the sun is cold,
And seldom, seldom seen;
The heavens have lost their zone of gold,
And earth her robe of green.
And ice upon the glancing stream
Has cast its sombre shade;
And distant hills and valleys seem
In frozen mist arrayed.
The Bluebell cannot charm me now,
The heath has lost its bloom;
The violets in the glen below,
They yield no sweet perfume.
But, though I mourn the sweet Bluebell,
‘Tis better far away;
I know how fast my tears would swell
To see it smile to-day.
For, oh! when chill the sunbeams fall
Adown that dreary sky,
And gild yon dank and darkened wall
With transient brilliancy;
How do I weep, how do I pine
For the time of flowers to come,
And turn me from that fading shine,
To mourn the fields of home!