There are many plants that are identified as bluebells, including hyacinth, grape hyacinth, Virginia bluebell, and harebell. This article focuses on a small genus of mostly European native plants in the Asparagus family frequently identified as bluebells. Please read and explore the various articles to ensure that we are talking about the same plant!
There are about 11 species in the Hyacinthoides genera and most of them are native to the Mediterranean area with the exception of Hyacinthoides non-scripta, the common bluebell of North Western Europe beloved of the British. Bluebells are early spring-flowering perennials with a bulbous root system. They produce nodding clusters of blue bell-shaped flowers, hence their common name.
Select Species Descriptions
1 *Common Bluebell* Hyacinthoides non-scripta, also called English bluebell, woodland bluebell, fairy flower, wood bell, wild hyacinth, jacinthe, calverkeys, Ring-o’-Bells, auld man’s bells and bell bottle is found in the forests of Western Europe from Spain to the British Isles where it has earned protected status due to habitat loss and the threat of invasive species. The common bluebell can be identified from other species by its white anthers and its fragrance. Also, the bells tend to be darker, smaller and more pendulous. Common bluebells are a garden fragrant. Earlier botanical names for this plant are Scilla nutans and Endymion non-scriptus – worth knowing for your further research. This plant can grow from 8 to 20 inches tall.
Hyacinthoides cedretorum grows in North Africa and the Atlas Mountains. This species is unique in that the outer flower petals are curved outward much more dramatically than those of the other species.
2Hyacinthoides hispanica is the *Spanish bluebell*. The Spanish bluebell’s raceme (flower stem) has a more upright habit than other bluebells and its anthers are blue. It is not very fragrant. The Spanish bluebell has been introduced to the British Isles where it out-competes and hybridizes with the Common Bluebell and has become an unwelcome invader.
Hyacinthoides italica is the *Italian bluebell*. Its raceme is similar to the Spanish bluebell in its upright habit, but the plant itself is more slender.
History and Folklore of Bluebells
Bluebells, those denizens of ancient forests, are fairy flowers, used by fairies to trap humans who encroach on natural places. If a child picks a bluebell in a bluebell wood, he will never be seen again. If an adult picks one, he will wander lost, led astray by pixies forever, or until someone rescues him.
The Common English Bluebell is a beloved treasure of Britain where its presence is said to indicate the ancientness of a forest. The bluebells are a tourist attraction in some parts of England. “Bluebell Trains” once ran through the Chiltern Hills offering tourists a view of the masses of bluebells that helped earn the area the designation of “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”. Although these tourist trains no longer run, the Bluebell Railway in East Sussex runs past plenty of bluebells in the right season.
Due to habitat loss, over eager collection by enthousiasts, the invasion of Spanish bluebell with which the common bluebell hybridizes readily, and the muntjac deer which finds them delicious, some concern for the UK’s wild population common bluebells exists. The United Kingdom (which houses about half of the world’s population) has listed its common bluebells as protected and trade in their seeds and bulbs is prohibited without a special permit. Climate change is also emerging as a concern for the future of this species as the changing climate is causing it and other plants in its environment to leaf and flower at different times, causing changes in light patterns that can affect its blooms.
The name Hyacinthus nonscriptus means “Hyacinth not written upon”, differentiating it from the Hyacinth referred to in the story of Hyakinthus, lover of Apollo which you can learn more about at the Hyacinth page.
Bluebells in the Garden
Bluebells are an excellent choice for a partially shaded area of the yard, along hedgerows and beneath orchard trees. Many butterflies, hoverflies, and bees find bluebell attractive and it is an important early-season nectar source. They are great additions to butterfly and wildlife gardens and faerie gardens.
Plant your bluebell bulbs about two inches deep and 12 inches apart in the autumn in a spot where they will receive some sun in the early spring. They should sprout and bloom for you the following spring. If you plant seeds instead, you will get leaves next spring, but it could be five years before you see flowers. Take care to eliminate weeds regularly until your plants are well-established as young bluebells are sensitive to competition.
Once they have bloomed and the flowers have disappeared, bluebells don’t mind shade at all. Eventually, the leaves will disappear as well, so it won’t even notice. Bluebells should be mulched well in the spring with a water-retentive mulch, like leaf mould or wood chips and kept moist during the spring, but should never be allowed to become waterlogged.
Common English Bluebells H. non-scripta are the most fragrant and likely the species most herbals will be referring to. They enjoy moist, deciduous woodlands where they can enjoy a blanket of leaf litter from the annual shedding of leaves and full sun in early springtime when it blooms before the trees leaves return fully and send the plant into deep shade, which it doesn’t seem to mind at all once it’s finished blooming. The flowers are very sweetly scented and are usually dark blue to violet, though pink and white varieties can be found. If you are on the British Isles, please take care that the bluebell you are planting is indeed this native species.
Magickal Uses of Bluebells
I am told that anyone wearing a wreath of bluebells will be compelled to speak only the truth.
Bluebells may be used in love spells. Turn a Common English bluebell flower inside out to ensure you will win the heart of the one you desire.
Bluebells may be used to prevent nightmares either stuffed in a dream pillow or strung and hung near the bed.
Bluebells are among the first flowers of spring and so represent rebirth. They may be planted on gravesites to comfort mourning visitors and represent the rebirth of the dead.
In the language of flowers, bluebells mean humility and constancy.
Bluebell Correspondences at-a-glance
Bluebells for Healing
The bulb of the common bluebell has been used as a styptic and diuretic, to address leukorrhea and for snake bites. However, it contains toxic alkaloids and is not generally in use today. I have heard that some research is being done with regards to cancer, though I haven’t been able to get details.
Other Uses of Bluebells
Common bluebells yield a glue that has historically been used for bookbinding and to stick flights to arrow shafts.
The bulb yields a starch that has been used to starch clothing.
All parts of English bluebell are toxic and the sap can cause contact dermatitis. Animals can suffer gastric distress upon eating these.
Bluebell leaves can resemble those of rampson and young onions and poisonings may occur due to this similarity, however, a good sniff should tell you if you’ve got an onion or a not-an-onion. It is probably a good idea not to plant these near your onions, chives, and garlic, just in case.
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