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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.

Distribution: British or English bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, has a range that extends from the UK into northern Europe (France, Netherlands, Belgium) and south along the Atlantic coast into northwestern Spain. 

Not to be confused with...

Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica). This is a closely related species with a natural range that extends through the western part of the Iberian peninsula in Spain and Portugal. H. hispanica was introduced into Britain in the late 1600s as an ornamental.

Hybrid bluebell (Hyacinthoides x massartiana). This is British-Spanish hybrid between H. non-scripta and H. hispanica bluebells. It was first recorded in the wild in the UK in 1963. Native bluebells share many of the same characteristics as hybrid bluebells so it may be tricky to tell them apart.

Our native bluebells may be under threat because they cross breed with non-native bluebells. The hardy and vigorous hybrids spread quickly, out-competing our native bluebells and diluting their gene pool.

Can you tell native and non-native bluebells apart?

Tell the difference between native and non-native bluebells

Where and when to find bluebell

Bluebells are native to western Europe with the UK being a species stronghold. They're associated with ancient woodland are often used in combination with other species as a clue that a wood is ancient. They reach their greatest densities in the UK’s woods where many thousands of bulbs can exist in one woodland creating the incredible blue carpets we fondly associate with spring.

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 one of nature’s most stunning displays.

Where: a significant proportion of the world's bluebells grow 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, in combination with other species, is an ancient woodland indicator 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.

Threats and conservation

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

  • habitat destruction
  • collection from the wild
  • cross-breeding (hybridisation) with non-native bluebells.

Non-native bluebells that escaped from gardens or that were dumped in garden waste have hybridised with our true native populations to produce Hyacinthoides x massartiana

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. This legislation was designed to protect bluebell from unscrupulous bulb collectors who supply garden centres.

Did you know?

  • Bluebells are poisonous. All parts of the bluebell plant contain toxic glycosides that are toxic to humans and animals including dogs, horses and cattle. Ingestion 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.
  • 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.
  • Bluebells can reproduce sexually by seed or asexually by natural vegetative propagation.

Find a bluebells in a wood near you

We own over 1,000 woods 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 bluebell woods for some of the best displays across the UK.