Waiting for the Bluebells to emerge is, for me, a pure pleasure of being back at home in Springtime. Bluebell woods in flower are one of the most stunning sights in the British countryside, and the anticipation amongst walkers is tangible. The leaves have been out soaking up the sun for a while now, and the flowers are beginning to emerge from their winter hideaway. In two weeks, hopefully, we will have a shimmering blue haze in our Charming Chiltern woodlands.
On Saturday 24th April, I am leading a walk which passes through bluebell woods at Ashridge for Chiltern Walks. You can find out more here.
FAMILY – Asparagaceae. SUB-FAMILY – Scilliodeae. FLOWERS – April to May
A perennial plant, the bluebell grows from a tiny bulb which lives under the ground in woodlands. Over 50% of the worlds Bluebells are here in Britain. Like its woodland companions, the Wood Anemone and the Primrose, the bluebell flowers early, making the most of the early season sunlight piercing through to the woodland floor before the trees leaf up and establish their canopy and a more shading environment.
Both pictures below were taken in Berkhamsted: the left on 9th April 2020 and the right on 12th April 2021, so bluebells are perhaps a little less advanced this year than last.
Just because it’s blue and flowering between April-May in broadleaf woodland, it doesn’t mean that this is our native common Bluebell (H. non-scripta). For over 100 years we have had the Spanish bluebell (H. hispanica) wild in our woods too, and now a hybrid of the two as well (H. hispanica x non-scripta). The Spanish bluebell has been here for hundreds of years, but was first sold from garden centres about 100 years ago, and it escaped into woodlands over time. Here are some ways to distinguish it from our native Bluebell:
Leaf width: British – 1-1.5cm OR Spanish – 3cm
Flowers: British – deep blue, narrow, tube-like flowers, with the tips curled right back OR Spanish – paler blue, bell shaped flowers, with spread out tips (not curled back). (Hybrids – a mixture of the two).
Anthers: (inside the flower)– British – are cream coloured OR Spanish – usually blue.
Scent: British – sweet and fruity OR.. Spanish – almost no scent, or oniony
As the weather warms, the delicate fleshy leaves emerge from the ground, they begin their process of photosynthesis. At this time, they are vulnerable to damage by us because Bluebell woods are popular places to visit and walk. If a plant is trodden on, it will damage extremely easily and after this it will will die back. Therefore, please tread carefully, stick to the paths, and do not be tempted off.