10 Amazing Facts About Bluebells

Bluebells in woodland, photo by Denise Peters

Here are 10 incredible things you may not know about Hyacinthoides non-scripta... aka bluebells.

1) Over half the world’s populations of these iconic wildflowers grow in the UK.

2) Bluebells are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. If you dig up a wild bluebell you can be heavily fined.

3) Ants help to spread bluebell seeds, so if you live near a bluebell wood you may find them popping up in your garden.

4) It takes several years for a native bluebell seed to grow into a bulb & subsequently flower.

5) Bees enjoy bluebell’s pollen & nectar. Sometimes they ‘steal’ it by biting a hole in the top of the flower.

6) The chequered skipper butterfly also nectars on bluebells, as do several moth species.

7) Folklore used to tell that bluebells ring at daybreak to call fairies to the woods.

8) Bluebell bulbs contain a starch that in Elizabethan times was used to stiffen ruffs.

9) Gum from the roots was used to glue feathers to arrows & in bookbinding.

10) Bluebell juice was said to cure snake bites, but is chemically very potent & can be toxic in large doses.

Spanish bluebells

Spanish bluebells

11) Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) is a non-native garden escapee threatening our native species. They were originally introduced by plant hunters in the late 17th century. The Spanish bluebells became popular with gardeners as they grow more vigorously & suit the more open aspect of gardens, whereas native bluebells thrive best in dappled shade provided by deciduous woodland. However, Spanish bluebells lack the delicate perfume of our native species.

Unfortunately, the 2 species of bluebell hybridize easily so it can be quite difficult to tell them apart.

The native flower stem droops or nods distinctly to one side whereas the non-native’s stem is stiff and upright. The leaves are narrow 1 to 1.5cm, whereas the Spanish or hybrid can be up to 3cm wide. The native flower is often a much darker blue, although there can be occasional white ones.

The native bluebell is on the right

Our native bluebell is shown here, on the right of the photograph.