As the days become warmer many more plants join the first footers and bluebells especially, make a photogenic carpet beneath the unfurling leaves on deciduous trees and shrubs. The vibrant blue, flowers of bluebells or Hyacinthoides non-scripta, are sure sign that spring has arrived!
You will find bluebells covering woodland floors throughout the UK between April and late May. These perennial bulbs can be 50cm tall with smooth, strap-like leaves that are about 45cm long with a pointed tip.
Native bluebells have up to 20 sweetly scented bell-shaped flowers are borne on each flower stalk, which droops or nods to one side. Flowers can be white and sometimes pink as well as blue and each flower has six petals with up-tuned tips and anthers coated with cream-coloured pollen
Unfortunately our native bluebell is under threat because they readily cross breed with non-native bluebells, which is diluting their gene pool. This has probably been going on since Spanish bluebells were fist introduced as a garden-worthy plant in the 1600s but it was only when in 1963 that escapees were first noticed growing in amongst our native plants.
You can easily identify the flowers of the Spanish type (Hyacinthoides hispanica) as grow upright, are usually pale blue, pink or white and have distinctive blue anthers and have very little or no scent
If you’ve planted the Spanish type in your garden, pay attention to deadheading before they set seed and that should prevent them from spreading into nearby wild colonies of native bluebells. Any crossbreeds that occur are usually super-vigorous and fertile hybrids.
Take care too, when disposing of Spanish bluebells. Aim to dig them up intact and leave them in the sun to dry for a month so the bulb is dead before putting them in the compost bin. It’s claimed that hundreds of Spanish bluebell bulbs find their way into landfill sites every year and if there’s any life left in them, they thrive to fight another day!
Like snowdrops, native bluebells are bought ‘in the green’ – in spring when the plants are growing, in flower and after flowering and are available from specialist nurseries who propagate them from cultivated stock. Plant them at a depth of 15cm and space them approximately 15cm apart.
Dry bulbs are also available in autumn and should be planted as soon as possible at twice the depth of the bulb.
Bluebells will thrive in a cool and spot beneath deciduous trees and shrubs. Bluebells prefers well drained but moisture-retentive, humus-rich soil.After flowering, leave the foliage intact so that they can nourish the bulbs ready for producing next year’s display
DID YOU KNOW?
The Big Bluebell Watch, organized by woodlandtrust.org.uk wants your help to map UKs bluebells. The Woodland Trust considers that where Bluebells are found in hedgerows it may indicate an ancient hedge as their presence is indicative of ancient woodland that covered Britain after the last Ice Age.
Fancy a spring walk? Then visit nationaltrust.org.uk, to find the location of some of the best bluebell woodlands across England and Northern Ireland.
Bluebells contains glycosides and is poisonous if eaten by humans and animals and the sap can cause contact dermatitis
The bluebell’s bulb also contains a sticky substance, which was used as glue for fixing feathers to arrows and also for bookbinding as it repels attack by insects. The Elizabethans also used the starch-like juice from the bluebell bulb to stiffen their fancy ruff collars.
The bluebell is the flower of St George, as it usually starts to bloom around St George’s Day on 23rd April.
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 have been used to prevent nightmares either stuffed in a dream pillow or strung and hung near the bed.
In folklore, bluebells were said to ring when fairies were summoning their kin to a gathering; but if a human heard the sound, it would be their death knell.
Fairies were also said to use bluebells to lure and trap children playing and walking through the woods. And if a child picks a bluebell it will never be seen again!
Trampling on bluebells is through to anger any fairies resting there.
If you wear a wreath of bluebells you will also be compelled to speak only the truth!
Legend has it that fairies live among the Scottish bluebells (Campanula rotundifolia) and humans should be wary of disturbing them
Widely known as Harebells they have their roots in magic and it’s said that witches are known to turn themselves into hares and hide among them! According to folklore, if you traipse through a drift of harebells, you’ll also conjure up a swarm of angry fairies that will release their spells and trap them in the bells.
The plant flourishes in the wild both on damp peat areas and on dry chalky soils and you should recognise their daint blue flower heads that grow on slender stems, growing profusely on heather moors and on roadsides particularly in Scotland from July to September.
When on a country walk look out for
As the days warm many more plants join the early pioneers and make an incredible display of life and colour in our spring woods. Often arriving with the bluebell in late April and May, are the purple-pink flowers of early purple orchid, which are a handsome sight.
One of the earliest orchids to bloom is the purple orchid, which flowers between April and June
Other woodland plants that put early spring displays are wood anemone, common dog violet, red campion, wood-sorrel, ramsons, garlic mustard, lords-and-ladies, yellow archangel, and early purple orchid.
Late spring flowering plants include bugle, wild strawberry, herb Robert, pignut – which produces small umbels (umbrella-like clusters) of white flowers between April and June that are attractive to a range of insects such as soldier beetles and hoverflies, plus the lesser stitchwort, common nettle and foxglove.
Foxgloves are another fairy flower
According to folklore the flowers, which look like glove fingers were used by the fairies that live in the woods
Foxgloves or Digitalis purpurea are found across the UK, producing spikes of pink-purple flowers. They are biennial, so in the first year produce a rosette of leaves then the following year, from June to September flowers appear that are pink-purple in colour, occasionally white, and showing darker coloured spots on the lower lip of the flower.
Plants can grow up to 2m tall and you may find wild foxgloves growing on roadside verges, woodland edges, heaths, gardens and along hedgerows. Plants grow well in areas where soil is acidic and can be found across the UK.
Foxgloves are adapted to be pollinated by bees, especially long-tongued bees such as the common carder bee. The plant’s brightly coloured flowers and dark spotted lip attracts the bees, and the lower lip of the flower means that the insect is able to land before climbing up the tube. During this process the bee will dislodge pollen and then transfer it to another plant.
Foxglove contains a chemical which can be used to treat heart failure and high blood pressure as it can raise blood flow and increase the body’s defence mechanisms. However this plant is poisonous.
gardensupplydirect.com – offer bulbs in the green. Prices start from £3.79 for 10
thompson-morgan.com – have a special offer of 50 bluebells in the green for £14.99 (usual price £23.98)
clare-bulbs.co.uk – 50 bluebells costs £8.95 and you can buy 1000 for £168
wildflowershop.co.uk – prices start at 20 bluebells in the green £12 and fresh seeds are available September to December. Prices start at 1g for £4. They recommend approximately 2gms will be needed to cover a square metre when sown into a prepared seed bed, whereas up to 20 gms will be needed if the seeds are broadcast and left to their own devices.