Spring is here and it’s time to go bluebell spotting. Get to know them better with our top bluebell facts.
If you’ve spotted bluebells already, then please let us know and record your bluebells with the Big Bluebell Watch. It’s our most accurate bluebell survey and will help us to secure the future of native bluebells and their woodland home.
What are native bluebells?
Native bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are bulbous plants from the Asparagaceae family.
They spend most of the year as bulbs underground in deciduous woodlands, emerging to leaf and then flower in April and May. This early spring flowering means they can make the most of the sunlight filtering down to the woodland floor before the leaf canopy closes over and casts its shade.
Where do bluebells grow?
They are native to western Europe. The UK is a species stronghold with possibly almost one half of the world’s population growing here.
Bluebells are often used in combination with other species as an indicator of ancient woodland. They reach their greatest densities in the UK’s woods. Many thousands of bulbs may exist in one woodland creating the incredible blue carpets we fondly associate with spring.
Are bluebells protected?
Yes, bluebells are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). It prohibits anyone from digging up bulbs in the countryside and landowners from removing bluebells from their land for sale.
The species was also listed on Schedule 8 of the Act in 1998 which makes trade in wild bluebell bulbs or seeds an offence.
Bluebells are protected because they face many threats and are an important species to preserve. Threats in the UK include the loss of ancient woodland habitat, the illegal collection of bulbs and cross-breeding (hybridisation) with non-native bluebells.
Are bluebells poisonous?
All parts of the bluebell plant contain toxic glycosides that are poisonous to humans and animals including dogs, horses and cattle.
Ingestion of any parts of the plant such as flowers, leaves or bulbs causes a lowering of the pulse rate, nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting. If eaten in larger quantities it can cause cardiac arrhythmia, hypotension and electrolyte imbalance.
In some people, direct contact with the plant can cause skin irritation, known as contact dermatitis.
What’s the meaning of its scientific name?
The species Hyacinthoides non-scripta was first described by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753.
The generic part of its scientific name Hyacinthoides means hyacinth-like.
The second part of its name 'non-scripta' means ‘unlettered’ or ‘unmarked’ which was intended by Linnaeus to distinguish this plant from the classical hyacinth of Greek mythology. In Greek mythology a hyacinth flower sprang up from the blood of the dying prince Hyacinthus. His lover, the god Apollo, shed tears that marked the flower's petals with the letters ‘AIAI’ (meaning ‘alas’) as a sign of his grief.
How do bluebells spread?
Bluebells can reproduce sexually by seed or asexually by natural vegetative propagation.
The major mechanism of reproduction is by seed. This type of spread tends to happen quite slowly since the seeds are simply dropped next to the plant rather than being widely dispersed.
They spread locally by vegetative means where small bulbils form around the main bulb creating genetic clones of the parent plant.