A deep blue carpet of bluebells is an unforgettable sight to anyone visiting many of our native woodlands. The spring spectacle of seeing a wood not only greening, but also 'blueing' is one of the joys of the year.
Hyacinthoides non-scripta are bulbous perennials with linear to strap-shaped leaves and bell-shaped flowers. The plant can be found in hedgerows, under bracken and occasionally in grassland and in some upland meadows.
However, the bluebell is primarily a plant of deciduous woodland on moist, free draining soils. It avoids shade by sending up shoots early in the season and completing its growth before the tree canopy has developed.
Britain and Ireland are the world’s strongholds for the bluebell and we are lucky to have many bluebell woods left. It is the archetypal bulb for planting and gathering en masse - when bluebells are in flower, spring has truly arrived.
Due to threats to its environment the population of English Bluebells are dwindling. They are a protected species.
It is illegal to dig them up or pick them, but despite changes in the law and recent publicity, woodlands are still being illegally raided for their bulbs.
In addition, the bluebell is also under threat from an invader from the south, the Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica. Our lovely, native bluebell is going to need all our help if it is to hold its own.
These seeds of Hyacinthoides nonscripta originate from Wiltshire. If you are not familiar with the current situation, please read the paragraph entitled Conservation at the bottom of the page.
Probably best sown in late summer but will establish from seed sown at any time of the year. In deciduous woodlands or plantations that cast enough shade to prevent grass growth in summer the cheapest way to establish bluebell is from seed. It does require patience but it gives the most naturalistic effect.
The seeds need to go through a the temperature changes of the seasons to enable them to germinate, this process can be left to nature, or hastened by the process of stratification, "copying nature".
Sowing March to September:
Sow in John Innes seed compost, or something similar, place each container in a polythene bag and put into the refrigerator (not the freezer compartment) for 2 to 3 weeks.
After this time place the containers outside in a cold frame or plunge them up to the rims in a shady part of the garden border and cover with glass or clear plastic.
Some of the seeds may germinate during the spring and summer and these should be transplanted when large enough to handle. The remainder of the seeds may lay dormant until next spring.
Sowing October to February:
Sow the seeds in John Innes seed compost, covering them with a thin layer of compost. After watering place the seed container outside against a North wall or in a cold frame, making sure they are protected against mice, and leave them there until the spring.
The compost should be kept moist but not wet at all times, and if the seed containers are out in the open then some shelter has to be given against excessive rain.
In the spring bring the seed containers into the greenhouse or indoors on to a well lit but not sunny windowsill and keep the compost moist. This should trigger off germination.
If the seeds do not germinate in the spring keep them in cool moist conditions throughout the summer.
Larger bulbs can be replanted direct into their permanent positions, but it is best to pot up smaller bulbs and grow them on for a year in a cold frame before planting them out when dormant in late summer
Prick out each seedling as it becomes large enough to handle, transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots or trays.
Multiple seedlings can be transplanted into large pots to save space.
Leave in their pots for the first year. Give them regular liquid feeds to make sure that they get sufficient nutrient.
In autumn gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out.
Bulbs like to be quite deep in the soil. Plant 8cm (3in) deep in autumn, in moderately fertile, humus-rich, well-drained soil that does not dry out. Cut down flowers as they are over to encourage basal growth.
The British bluebell is intensely choosy about where it grows because it is dependent upon a specific fungal environment generated from rotting leaf-matter, which is called Mycorrhiza arbusculus for lack of a more specific name. Without the assistance of the fungus, the native bluebell cannot synthesise the nutrients necessary for growth.
Over time, clumps of bulbs increase and get congested, causing poor flowering. Every two to three years divide clumps of bulbs once flowering has finished in summer and the leaves have died down. Remove offsets and leave 7 to 10cm (3 to 4in) between bulbs, planting 10cm (4in) deep.
The bulb of the developing plant is drawn down through the soil by contractile roots and can end up as far as 25cm (10in) below the surface.
Cottage/Informal Garden, Flowers Borders and Beds, Ground Cover, Under-planting shrubs and trees, Wildflower Gardens or Wildlife Gardens.
The bulbs were historically used as a starch to stiffen Elizabethan ruffles, as a glue for fletchings and also in book binding as its poisonous nature discouraged damage by silverfish.
Our familiar native fragrant bluebell or wild hyacinth has had several name changes, at various times masquerading as a scilla, hyacinthus or endymion. This instability has done nothing to reduce its status in everyone's affections. There are also charming pink and white varieties, but the blue ones capture the imagination most, especially when planted in drifts under shrubs and trees, and in patches of grass.
The word Hyacinthine means 'light violet to purplish-blue in colour.' There are however other possible derivations. One is that these names derive from hyacinth and the Greek or Latin adjectival suffix - inus which indicates colour, appearance or resemblance, thus meaning essentially 'like a hyacinth'.
The species name, non-scripta is generally said to mean unmarked but, as it suggests, its literal meaning is ‘no writing’. This results from the Greek myth that Apollo wrote on wild hyacinth, Hyacinthus orientalis albulus, ‘Alas’ to commemorate the death of Hyacinthos. The bluebell has no such markings.
The genus name comes from Greet Mythology. Hyacinth was a beautiful youth loved by both the god Apollo and the West Wind, Zephyr. Apollo and Hyacinth took turns at throwing the discus. Hyacinth ran to catch it to impress Apollo, but he was struck by the discus as it fell to the ground, and died. A twist in the tale makes the wind god Zephyrus responsible for the death of Hyacinth. The youth's beauty caused a feud between Zephyrus and Apollo. Jealous that Hyacinth preferred the radiant archery god Apollo, Zephyrus blew Apollo's discus off course, so as to injure and kill Hyacinth. Apollo did not allow Hades to claim Hyacinth. Instead, Apollo made a flower, the hyacinth, from Hyacinth's spilled blood.
Hyacinthoides nonscripta are a protected species. It is illegal to dig them up or pick them, but despite changes in the law and recent publicity, woodlands are still being illegally raided for their bulbs.
Our familiar English Bluebell is also under threat from an invader from the south - Hyacinthoides hispanica, the Spanish bluebell. But rather than being crowded out, it is starting to suffer slow death by hybridisation.
The Spanish bluebell is the worst enemy of the native bluebell because its genes are dominant. It will hybridise readily and the traits of the British bluebell disappear within a very few generations. A stand of Spanish bluebells left to seed in a British bluebell wood will, in a few seasons, overwhelm and replace the choice native plant.
To grow Spanish bluebells represents more of a threat to the survival of the native form than digging it up in the wild.
The Spanish bluebell is often grown in gardens, from where it escapes into the wild or from where it’s discarded in the countryside by thoughtless gardeners when it proves too vigorous for comfort. It’s also often supplied in error - sometimes knowingly by less scrupulous bulb companies.
Among the bulbs you will see offered by garden centres and supermarkets are those of something the blackguards dare to call British bluebells. Cheap Dutch-grown Spanish bluebell bulbs are now flooding the market, often incorrectly or misleadingly labelled.
If you do decide to plant bulbs please make sure they are from a licensed dealer.
Although this plant is extremely familiar it is worth point out the differences between English Bluebell, Hyacinthoides nonscripta, the Spanish bluebell H. hispanica and its hybrids such as the much planted hybrid H. x massartiana.
The British bluebell carries its intensely blue tubular blooms on one side of the stem, which is usually drooping and coloured blue or even purple; its pollen and anthers are creamy white; each individual flower stem is shielded by a long narrow leaf-like ligule.
The Spanish bluebell (and its hybrids) stand erect and carries its paler blue bell-shaped blooms on all sides of the plant stem, which is usually green. Where the teeth of the corolla tube are curled back in the English bluebell, they are simply expanded in the Spanish bluebell.
The two most reliable ways to identify a true native bluebell.
• check that its anthers are cream, not pale blue
• check that the inflorescence (flower spike) drops at the tip and has flowers hanging to one side.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 300mg Average Seed Count 50 Seeds Family Hyacinthaceae Genus Hyacinthoides Species non-scripta Cultivar Wildflower of Britain and Ireland Synonym Endymion non-scriptus, Scilla non-scripta, Scilla nutans Common Name English Bluebell, Wildflower of Britain and Ireland Other Common Names Wild Hyacinth, Squill Other Language Names IR. Coinnle corra Hardiness Bulbous Perennial Flowers Blue in Spring. Aspect All aspects. Exposed or Sheltered. Soil Acid, Alkaline or Neutral. Moist but well-drained.