Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta

Status Green - Least concern
Best Time to See April, May, June
Colour Blue
Habitat Woodland, Grassland

Its bell-like flowers with up-rolled tips carpet forest floors in the spring and its distinctive scent attracts bees beneath the trees.

The UK is home to about half of the world’s bluebell population. Perhaps its no surprise, then, that they are so popular here: when Plantlife asked the British public to vote for the "Nation's Favourite Wildflower" it won by a significant margin both in England and the UK as a whole (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland opted for the Primrose (Primula vulgaris) instead.

Where it grows

Generally shady habitats, but also in open ones in the damper west. Woodlands, also hedgerows and grassland. Bluebells are woodland plants but, except perhaps in East Anglia, they do not need woods as much as humidity and continuity of habitat.

Best time to see

Late April and late May / early June.

Cultural info

  • In the Language of Flowers it symbolises everlasting love.

How's it doing?

Although still common in Britain, bluebells are threatened locally by habitat destruction, collection from the wild, and from the escape of the Spanish bluebell from gardens and subsequent cross-breeding and loss of true native populations. The latter is a particular concern - during a survey around one in six bluebells found in broad-leaved woodland was a Spanish rather than native bluebell.

Bluebells are now protected from illegal commercial harvesting.

Did you know?

  • Its root sap was used to glue feathers onto arrows in the Middle Ages and to stiffen ruffs in Tudor times.
  • It is dedicated to England's Patron Saint, St George.
  • Vernacular names include Granfer Griggles and Cra'tae, i.e. crow's toes.
  • According to Richard Mabey (1996) "The traditional 'non-script' - meaning 'unlettered' - portion of the name is to distinguish the British hyacinth from the classical hyacinth, a mythical flower sprung from the blood of the dying prince Hyacinthus, on whose petals Apollo inscribed the letters AI AI - 'alas' - to express his grief."
  • Bluebells flower in colours ranging from white (quite common), through to grey, pale blue, lilac to dark cobalt. There is also a variegated form with flowers that look as though they are white-bells dipped in blue water-colour paint.
  • In East Sussex there is a 'Bluebell Railway' which runs through five miles of wooded countryside. Also, at Beaton's Wood at Arlington in East Sussex there is a 'Bluebell Walk'. The revenue for admissions to this annual attraction has helped fund several major local projects including a school swimming pool and a new village hall as well as paying for the upkeep of the wood.
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins (1871) noticed their 'faint honey smell.'
  • The plant is supposed to symbolise generation and sexual power (Grigson, 1958).

How the merry bluebell rings,
To the mosses underneath...

Alfred Lord Tennyson, "Adeline"