I love bluebell woods. They’re an important part of our natural heritage and such a stunning sight (and fragrance) when all the flowers are in bloom. One of around eleven different types, the British native bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta (shown in the top photo) has a gently nodding head with dark blue, almost purple flowers that fall to the bottom of the stem, a strong sweet fragrance and creamy-white pollen.
In the UK we also have the Spanish bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanics that has been grown in gardens and then dumped into other areas. There are records dating back to 1909 of this import. The Spanish bluebell has larger, paler flowers (that can also be pink or white) across both sides of the stem, broader leaves and little or no scent. This readily cross pollinates with our native type, resulting in an almost scentless hybrid that is now more common than the Spanish parent—which I think is what is shown in the photo at the bottom, which was found in a garden.
The native bluebell is now on a list of threatened species, and how sad it would be if our woods were filled with scentless flowers. The Natural History Museum have a bluebell project, with an online survey which you can join. They’re recording both the types of bluebell and the time of year they’re arriving, as an indicator of climate change.
Do you have bluebell woods near you?
NB: Because bluebells are protected through the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, if you want to grow native bluebells, you must find a reputable supplier who has not collected them illegally from the wild.