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British Bluebells - Facts & Photos

Learn all about the British bluebell with PicturesOfEngland.com

Bluebells - Image by PicturesOfEngland.com member Raymond Thurlby (view gallery)

One of the most magical sights in England, or indeed anywhere in Britain is that of the bluebell flower, which for a few short weeks during springtime emerges from the ground to carpet our ancient woodlands in a stunning display of violet-blue, its delicate bell-shaped flowers hanging from their stems in the dappled light of the woods to enthral and excite all those that come across this truly enchanting sight. Often associated with fairies, and symbolic of the ancient English woodland, Bluebells are not only beautiful to look at but they are a very interesting flower too, with uses going back thousands of years. Here we look at some of the history, facts, and folklore associated with this iconic British flower.

1. When to see them - Springtime

Marwood Hill - Image by PicturesOfEngland.com member Martin Humphreys (view gallery)

Bluebells can be seen from mid-April through to late-May, though it can vary depending on the location and weather. A particularly mild spring for instance, might cause them to flower earlier, so if you are planning to travel any distance to see them, do try to check that they are in flower before you set off.

2. Where to see them - Ancient woodlands

Coton Manor Gardens - Image by PicturesOfEngland.com member Kevin Sinclair (view gallery)

Bluebells, when in flower, can be seen in many places, such as along shady hedgerows, in churchyards, along hillsides, in meadows and open fields, and even along the clifftops of the English coastline, however, the best place to experience them by far and where they truly are at their natural best is throughout Britain's ancient woodlands and forests, where the entire woodland floor can sometimes be covered in thousands upon thousands of them, creating the stunning spectacle that we all know and love and can be witnessed in the many beautiful bluebell photos on this website.

If you don't know anywhere near you where you can see them like this, it may be worth asking around as most towns and villages usually have their own special place where you can go to see them close by, or if not, you could visit one of the locations on the list we link to below in the Photos & Resources section, just make sure you get your timing right as bluebells only flower for a limited time each year during spring, so please find out if they are in flower before making a special journey.

It is also worth noting that the bluebell is considered an ancient woodland indicator species, meaning that finding bluebells within a woodland can often indicate that the woodland is an ancient one, perhaps dating back to 1600, or further still to the giant wildwood that once covered much of England after the last ice age, which is when bluebells are said to have first appeared in Britain.

3. Bluebell varieties - British and Spanish

The native British Bluebell - close up 2 - Image by PicturesOfEngland.com member John Godley (view gallery)

There are two main types of Bluebell in England, that is our own native variety of 'British Bluebell' (pictured above) and also its cousin, the 'Spanish Bluebell' (pictured below) which was introduced by the Victorians as a garden plant but soon found its way into our countryside and is considered a threat to our native species, with worries that it may cause "extinction by hybridisation". Therefore if you are planning to plant bluebells in your garden, please try to make sure you are planting the British bluebell, and not any other type or hybrid, as doing so could endanger our native ones.

How to tell the difference between British Bluebells and Spanish Bluebells

The main difference is that our native bluebell has a drooping stem towards the top, due to the flowers being on just one side of the stem, as apose to all around the upright stem on the Spanish variety. The native British bluebell is also scented, whilst its Spanish cousin is not. You will also find that our native bluebells have a more narrow tubular-bell flower, whereas the Spanish is more of a conical bell, and with larger flower and leaves. There are colour differences too, with our bluebells a deep violet-blue in colour, as apose to the pale blue Spanish variety. However both species can also be white.

The bluebell close up image above by John Godley shows the native British bluebell, whereas the following image by David Reynold's shows the upright Spanish bluebell, with its larger flowers which are all around the stem, larger leaves, and pale blue colour.

Spanish bluebells. Image by David Reynold's
White bluebells. Image by Ray Bird

4. Interesting Bluebell Facts & History

Bluebells, Steeple Claydon, Bucks - Image by PicturesOfEngland.com member Tony Tooth (view gallery)

  1. A very British flower
    Almost half of the world's bluebells can be found in the UK. They are rare throughout the rest of the world, but Britain is a bluebell stronghold.
  2. Highly Toxic
    Bluebells are poisonous to humans, dogs, horses and other animals, and can be fatal if consumed in large quantities.
  3. Old Remedy
    Herbalists once used bluebells to help prevent nightmares. They were also used by 13th century monks as a remedy against leprosy and snakebites.
  4. Arrows & Bookbindings
    Nowadays the sap of a bluebell is believed to cause dermatitis and skin irritation, however during the bronze age this sticky sap was used to stick feathers to arrows. The sap was also used as a glue for bookbinding, as it helped protect the binding from certain insects.
  5. Elizabethan Starch
    During Elizabethan times, starch was made from the crushed bulbs of bluebells and used to help stiffen the ruff collars that were worn in the day, helping them to keep their shape.
  6. Crafty Bees
    Bluebells are important food flowers for bees, butterflies and other insects which feed on the nectar, however it has been discovered that honey bees sometimes steal the nectar without pollinating the flower, by biting a little hole at the base of the bell. This is not thought to impact the numbers of pollinating flowers however.
  7. Badgers
    Even though the bluebell is poisonous to most animals, Badgers have been known to eat the bulb of the bluebell.
  8. Cancer fight
    Although the bluebell has many toxic chemicals which help protect it from animals and insects that would otherwise eat it, scientists are now looking at ways these chemicals may help us in the fight against cancer.
  9. The Scottish Harebell
    In Scotland, they sometimes give the name 'Bluebell' to another flower, called the 'Harebell' which is a completely different flower and should not be confused with the British bluebell.
  10. Alternative names...
    The bluebell is known by other names too, here are some of them - English Bluebell, British Bluebell, Wood Bell, Wild Hyacinth, Wood Hyacinth, Cuckoo's Boots, Witches' Thimbles, Dead Man's Bells, Lady's Nightcap, and Fairy Flower.

5. Bluebell fairy's & folklore

Nettlebed Misty Bluebell Woodlands - Image by PicturesOfEngland.com member Ceri Jones (view gallery)

Often associated with fairies, there is lots of interesting folklore surrounding the British bluebell. Whether it's true or not, well that's up to you!

  1. Bluebell woods are said to be enchanted, and the fairies use them to lure people away.
  2. If you pick a bluebell, you'll be led astray by fairies and never be seen again. It is also bad luck to bring bluebells into the house.
  3. Wearing a garland of bluebells around your neck ensures that you tell the truth.
  4. It is said that when a bluebell rings, it summons all the fairies to a gathering, however, if a human happens to hear the ring too, that person will be visited by a malicious fairy and die shortly after.
  5. If you trample the bluebells, you will anger the fairies who are resting there.
  6. If you manage to turn a bluebell flower inside-out without tearing it, you shall win the one you love!

6. Protection & Conservation

Bluebells at Silverwood - Image by PicturesOfEngland.com member Mick Carver (view gallery)

No Picking
Bluebells are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) which means you can't pick them, or dig them up in the countryside, and you can't remove them from your land to sell.

Tread Carefully
Bluebells sometimes never recover if you tread on them, so please try to be careful and stick to obvious paths and established routes whilst out exploring their habitat or taking photos. Thank you.

Planting & Disposing
If you are planning to plant bluebells, please plant the British Bluebell, and not the Spanish one or one of its hybrids. Also, if you are removing none native bluebells from your land, please ensure to properly dispose of them so that they don't make it 'over the fence' and become established and a threat to our native species.

7. Photos & Resources

Badby wood - Image by PicturesOfEngland.com member Martin Humphreys (view gallery)

There are hundreds of bluebell photos posted by our members for you to enjoy. If you would like to post your own bluebell pictures, please do so by joining the site. Here are links to other bluebell photos on the site -

Photos

Bluebells - A picture tour compiled by member Peggy Cannell. There are approx. 92 images in this picture tour by Peggy. If you are viewing them on a PC, you can sit back and enjoy them in a slideshow.

Bluebell image search - around 272 images of Bluebells from across England and the rest of Britain.

Resources

Bluebell Woods in England - A list of Bluebell woods to visit in England, from the Woodland Trust, with useful visitor information and photos.

Tips for photographing bluebells - Six top tips for photographing bluebells from National Trust volunteer photographer Hugh Mothersole.

A Pictures of England article submitted by poe



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