Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

Bluebells transform our woodland in springtime. The carpet of intense blue under the opening tree canopy is one of our greatest woodland spectacles. It's not surprising that bluebell is one of the nation's best-loved wild flowers.

Common name(s): bluebell; English bluebell; British bluebell; granfer griggles; cra'tae

Scientific name: Hyacinthoides non-scripta 
Family:
Asparagaceae

What does bluebell look like?

Bluebells are perennial bulbous herbs with flowering stems to about 50cm tall. They spend most of the year as bulbs underground and emerge to flower from April onwards.

Leaves: around 7mm to 25mm wide and 45cm long. Strap-shaped with a pointed tip. They are smooth and hairless with a succulent appearance.

Flowers: up to 20 sweetly-scented flowers are borne on a flower stalk which droops or nods to one side. Flowers are bell-shaped and can be blue, white or rarely pink. Each flower has 6 petals with recurved (up-turned) tips. Anthers have white-cream coloured pollen.

Not to be confused with...

Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica). This non-native garden escape is threatening our native species. When garden waste is fly-tipped in the countryside Spanish bluebells become established, interbreeding with native bluebells changing future populations forever.

Find out how to tell the difference

Where and when to find bluebell

When: bluebells flower between mid-April and late May.

This early flowering makes the most of the sunlight that reaches the woodland floor before the full woodland canopy casts its shade. Millions of bulbs may grow closely together in one wood, creating unique one of nature’s most stunning displays.

Where: half of the world's population of bluebells are here in the UK. You'll find them in broadleaved woodland, along hedgerows and in fields.

Find your nearest bluebell wood with our explore woods map and filter to only include bluebells.

Value to wildlife

honeybee on bluebell
Honeybee collecting bluebell nectar.

Bees, hoverflies, butterflies and other insects feed on the nectar of bluebell. Their flowers provide an important early source of nectar.

Bees can 'steal' the nectar from bluebells flowers by biting a hole in the bottom of the bell, reaching the nectar without pollinating the flower.

Uses and folklore

Ornamental: bluebells are widely planted as garden plants for their spring flowering.

Indicator plant: bluebell is an ancient woodland indicator species in the UK.

Material: gummy bluebell sap was used to bind pages into the spines of books. Bronze Age people used bluebell to set feathers upon arrows, known as fletching. Bluebell bulbs were crushed to provide starch for the ruffs of Elizabethan collars and sleeves.

Medicinal: though little used in modern medicine, the bulb has diuretic and styptic properties.

Folklore: according to folklore, one who hears a bluebell ring will soon die! Legend also says that a field of bluebells is intricately woven with fairy enchantments.

Toxicity: All plant parts contain glycosides and are poisonous. The sap can cause contact dermatitis.

Threats

Although still common in Britain, bluebell is threatened locally by:

  • habitat destruction
  • collection from the wild
  • increasing hybridisation with non-native Spanish bluebells.

Spanish bluebells that have escaped from gardens or that are dumped in garden waste are cross-breeding with our true native populations. This is a particular concern and it's believed that around one in six bluebells found in broadleaved woodland is Spanish rather than native bluebell.

Since 1998 it has been illegal for anyone to collect native bluebells from the wild for sale. This legislation was designed specifically to protect bluebell from unscrupulous bulb collectors who supply garden centres.

Find a wood to explore

We own over 1,000 sites across the UK, many of which are fantastic bluebell hotspots.

Type your town or postcode into our search box. Look out for the bluebell icon on the wood features to see which woods have bluebells.

Or check out our top 10 bluebell woods for some of the best displays across the UK.

More on bluebells

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