BLUEBELLS that are native to the UK : hyacinthoides non-scripta
When the bluebells start to flower, you can be sure that spring is really here. We begin to see them from mid-April, although you may see them even earlier in some sheltered locations. They reach their zenith when creating a rich blue carpet below canopies of woodland trees.
In winter they seem to completely disappear, but they are still there below the surface of ancient woodlands as bulbs. As sring arrives they emerge first as rich thin leaves reaching for the remaining direct sunlight before the tree canopy closes over.
That wooded environment attracts the attention of plenty of pollinating insects. While these enable them to flower and seed, new plants are sometimes able to split off from these bulbs and grow as clones.
Bluebells are perhaps one of our most famous and unmistakeable woodland flowers – look for long and narrow, drooping leaf fronds and bending flower stems heavy with the nodding, blue bells that give this flower its name.
The bluebells that are native to the UK and which we find wild in Scotland are hyacinthoides non-scripta. They also go by other names such as common bluebells, English bluebells, British bluebells, wood bells, fairy flowers and wild hyacinth. There are of course other flowers that go by similar names such as hybrids and introduced species.
Our native and iconic plants are protected in the UK under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.
The bluebell’s Latin name, Hyacinthoides, comes from a Greek myth. When the Prince Hyacinthus died, the tears of the god Apollo spelled the word ‘alas’ on the petals of the hyacinth flower that sprang up from his blood. Non-scripta means unlettered and distinguishes this bluebell from the similar-looking hyacinth.
The sap from bluebells has been used throughout history as an adhesive for books and arrows. The crushed bulbs were also used to create starch for ruffs in Tudor times.
Bluebells were not often used medicinally but legend has it that they were used by 13th-century monks to treat snakebites and leprosy. Consideriing that the sap of the bulb is itself toxic, this would have been a risky solution. Present-day researchers are however looking into the bluebell’s highly effective animal and insect repellent properties. It is even hoped that certain bluebell extracts could be used to combat HIV and cancer. But in its natural state it is poisonous to humans and animals if eaten.
A few flowers emerge in mid-April and herald the impressive show to follow.
By early May they display in profusion. This embankment up Cardross Road above Renton is a popular habitat. As spring progresses into summer other flowers will superceed these bluebells and the colour scheme will alter.
A great display of bluebells in Fishers Wood. See index.asp?pageid=718128
BLUEBELLS that are Spanish : Hyacinthoides hispanica - or hybrids
If you notice white or pink "bluebells", these are most likely hybrids, possibly unintentional, from introduced species. Having anything, but our native species in your garden is frowned on as they can become rampant and interfere with indigenous species. Non-scripta in the Latin name in essence means in original form. As such they really are bluebells.
The Wildlife Trusts tells us that The Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, was introduced into the UK by the Victorians as a garden plant, but escaped into the wild – it was first noted as growing ‘over the garden wall’ in 1909. It is likely that this escape occurred from both the carefree disposal of bulbs and pollination. Today, the Spanish bluebell can be found alongside our native bluebell in woodlands and along woodland edges, as well as on roadsides and in gardens.
Of course, you may be seeing the Spanish bluebell itself, which is quite possibly in anything from blue to lilac to white. But if you see such "bluebells" that are of alternative hues or white in otherwise natural settings such as woodland, then these are most like native bluebells that have some within their number that are being affected by other species.
A white "bluebell" appears in amongst the otherwise all blue bluebells in Fishers Wood.
White "bluebells" in Heather Avenue, Alexandria with some blue ones beyond.
And some pink ones. Don't let the leaves in this picture confuse you. There are several plant variaties growing together.
MORE TIPS ON TELLING THEM APART.
This comes from the BBC Wildlife website :
Native bluebells have:
- narrow leaves, about 1-1.5cm wide
- deep violet-blue (sometimes white), narrow, tubular-bell flowers, with tips that curl back
- flowers on one side of the stem
- distinctly drooping stems
- a sweet scent
- cream-coloured pollen inside
Spanish bluebells have:
- broad leaves, about 3cm wide
- pale blue (often white or pink), conical-bell flowers, with spreading and open tips
- flowers all around the stem
- upright stems
- no scent
- blue- or pale green-coloured pollen inside
The creation of hybrids in the plant world whether for food or sheer variety in gardens is a common and accepted process carried out by nurserymen. When hybrids appear in the wild these are either because bred varieties escape into the natural environment and proliferate or something similar to a native variety has cross polinated with it. Bluebells are the best known example locally.
This is the case with our native bluebells and the introduced Spanish bluebells. Cross polination and therefore hybridisation occurs naturally with insects and other polinators doing what comes naturally.
Pollen is exchanged between two varieties of the same type of plant. The male part (stamen) of one plant's flower pollinates the female part (the pistil) of another flower. The Gardening Know How website describes this in more detail.
BBC WILDLIFE : https://www.bbcwildlife.org.uk/how-identify-bluebells#:~:text=Our%20native%20bluebell%2C%20Hyacinthoides%20non-scripta%2C%20otherwise%20named%20common,and%20along%20woodland%20edges%20in%20April%20and%20May.
GARDENING KNOWHOW : https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/info/plant-hybridization-info.htm
GARDENERS WORLD FORUM : https://forum.gardenersworld.com/discussion/80779/bluebells-white-and-pink#:~:text=Sorry%2C%20but%20that%20means%20they%20have,come%20in%20blue%20and%20never%20pink.&text=Sorry%2C%20but%20that%20means,blue%20and%20never%20pink.&text=that%20means%20they%20have,come%20in%20blue%20and
MEANDERING WILD : https://meanderingwild.com/bluebell-woods-in-the-uk/
SCOTTISH WILDLIFE TRUST : https://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/species/bluebell/
WHITE KNIGHTS BIODIVERSITY : https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/whiteknightsbiodiversity/2014/04/30/bluebells-and-pinkbells-and-whitebells/#:~:text=All%20three%20bluebell%20species%20can%20be%20found%20in,introduced%20onto%20campus%20numerous%20times%20in%20the%20past.
WILDLIFE TRUSTS website : This explains how to tell the difference between native and other species. https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife/how-identify/spanish-or-native-bluebell