You know it is spring when bluebells start to bloom. 

Photo: Amanda Scott

Scientific name: Hyacinthoides non-scripta

Other common names: Wild Hyacinth (in Scotland), Granfer Griggles

Cornish name: Gucu

What to look for:

  • Family: Liliaceae (Lily family)
  • Flowers: A raceme of blue, bell-shaped flowers drooping to one side.
  • Leaves and stem: Hairless, leaves are elongate and form a basal rosette.
  • Height: Up to 50 cm.
  • Where: Woodlands, grasslands. Common across the UK, but absent from Orkney and Shetland.
  • When: Flowers in April and May.
  • Habit: Upright.

It’s hard to beat the beauty of a bluebell wood in the spring. The carpet of blue flowers can take the breath away as it stretches across huge spaces beneath the trees. The scent is also wonderful. Bluebells are indicators of ancient woodland, and that’s the habitat with which we most associate them. Like many other woodland plants, they grow their long leaves and blossom in spring, so they can make the most of the light before the tree canopy closes over.

Bluebells can be found in other places, however. They can be found in pastures, hedges and even cliff-tops. Once established in a location, in the right conditions they will persistently spread. They are sensitive, however, to grazing, and, of course, loss of habitat.

One of the main threats to our native Bluebells is the occurrence of Spanish Bluebells, a species introduced to Britain in the 1680s, and more particularly the cross between the Spanish species and our native flower, the Hybrid Bluebell, a garden escape that is mainly found in woodlands. If you’re buying bulbs for the garden make sure they are our native species (Hyacinthoides non-scripta).

Did you know…?

…According to folklore, wearing a Bluebell compels you to tell the truth. It is also a symbol of everlasting love.

…Almost half of the world’s Bluebells are found in the UK.

…The species name ‘non-scripta’ means ‘not written’. This derives from a Greek myth, in which Apollo, mourning a dying Spartan prince called Hyakinthos, turned him into a flower – possibly a Larkspur, Fritillary or Iris – supposedly marked with the Greek letters ‘AI, AI’, meaning ‘Alas’. The Bluebell was originally supposed to be related to this flower, but was not marked with the ‘AI’ lettering, so Linnaeus dubbed it Hyacinthus non-scriptus – an unlettered Hyacinth! The modern scientific name, though a little different, retains this curious meaning.

More information and references:

Mabey, R., 1997. Flora Britannica. Chatto & Windus, London.

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Stace, C., 2010. New Flora of the British Isles, 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Published: April 2015
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Amanda Scott