Bringing to life spectacles of natural wonder on our doorstep
There are three different kinds of Bluebell in the British Isles – native (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), Spanish (Hyacinthoides hispanica) and a hybrid. Both the native and the Spanish grow in woodland and hedgerows. The hybrid is more popular in gardens.
Native Bluebells have smaller flowers, drooping stems with flowers on just one side and the petals of the flowers curl back on themselves. Spanish Bluebells have larger flowers on both sides of an upright stem. Their flowers have straight petals so they’re easy to tell apart. Although there is the complication of the hybridised bluebell which looks somewhere in between the two.
Despite the name, native Bluebells can also be white, but if you see a pink one then it’s likely to be a Spanish Bluebell. There has been concern about the spread of the Spanish Bluebells in Britain and the possibility that the hybridised variety could threaten the survival of the native Bluebell. The Head of Conservation at the Wildlife Trusts has advised people not to plant hybridised or Spanish bulbs in the countryside or near native Bluebells.
Bluebells flower between April and June. They are well adapted to living under the canopy provided by trees. The shoots emerge from the ground in January giving them a head start over other woodland plants. And they can grow and sow seeds before the trees fully develop their leaves putting the Bluebells into the shade.The UK’s Bluebell woodlands are reputed to contain up to half of the world’s Bluebells.
Find out more about Bluebells
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Mike Dilger visits a 'cathedral' of bluebells in Wiltshire... It's bluebelltastic!
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Bluebells like moist, shady conditions, so woodlands are ideal. But they can also be found in other places such as hedgerows and even by the sea. Many woods across Britain are carpeted with Bluebells in the spring, and in areas like Skomer off the coast of Pembrokeshire, the presence of the flowers suggests that there were once large areas of woodland. There are also plenty of Bluebell spectacles to be seen in Northern Ireland.
In the East of England Bluebells are only found in woodland whereas in Western Britain some grow on open ground - grassland, heath, sea cliff - with bracken as substitute woodland.
In folklore it was said that Bluebell woods were frequented by fairies, summoned by the ringing of the Bluebells… anyone else who heard the flowers ring would not have long to live!
In Queen Elizabeth I’s time Bluebell bulbs were dug up to provide a starch for stiffening muslin and ruffs. It was also used as adhesive for bookbinding and the toxicity of the bulbs meant this kept the books free from moths and silverfish.
The toxins in the bulbs are now the subject of much medical research. They protect the flower from serious infection and researchers are trying to find out if they could do the same for people.
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Best places to see - Widespread in the countryside with Thorne Moor in Yorkshire a particular hot spot.
In the spring you can hear all the UK’s native birds at full volume during dawn chorus... one of nature's noisiest spectacles.
Best places to see - UK-wide, from your back garden to the local park and further afield!
Find out how various projects are helping one of nature's most understated spectacles make a come back.
Best places to see - Around the UK including North Oxford which is featured in the programme.