In And Out The Dusty Bluebells

Spring has finally turned a corner in England now we have slipped into May. Typically, it being May Bank Holiday here, the weather is still on the chilly side (I have the heating on!) and it’s raining. The forecast promises warm weather by the end of this week, much to everyone’s relief. It has been a good year for spring flowers though and now the daffodils have given way to the most glorious (I think) wild flower displays this country puts on, for May represents bluebell time. Whilst in some locations they often appear in April if the weather is warm enough, invariably it is the non-native species that bloom first.

mXPDKBMIt is a sad fact that English bluebells are unique but being slowly but surely eroded by foreign counterparts introduced here way back in the early 1900s.  Known as Spanish bluebells, they are different in many respects to our own native species but so common now, most people do not know the difference. The plants are common in people’s gardens too, as seeds can be readily purchased and easy to grow. As a consequence, they have self-seeded along hedgerows and verges and able to cross-pollinate with our native species, thus destroying their uniqueness. This is such a shame.

So, how can you tell which is which? There are four simple ways.


The Spanish Invader

First is colour. In the Spanish varieties (hyacinthoides hispanica) the bell-shaped flowers are pale blue, often white, and occasionally pink. The native English (hyacinthoides non-scripta) bluebell flower is darker, more a cobalt blue. The second is the way the flowers hang on the stalks. In the foreign variety, the stem is upright with the bells flowering around it, the flower heads fairly large, open tipped and more prolific. In our native plant, the stem arches with the flowers hanging on one side only, and with fewer bells.

English native

English native

The third clue is pollen: the Spanish flower has blue or green pollen; in the English variety it is white or cream. The fourth, and to my mind the most important, difference is perfume. There is no smell to Spanish varieties whilst the true English form will scent a woodland glade with a subtle, honey-like perfume that is unmistakable.

There’s nothing quite like an English wood when it is in a full swathe of blue glory. A walk through these can raise the spirit and lift the heart as they herald the onset of summer. The show is short-lived as once the leaves on the trees come out fully, the flowers vanish. It’s one of the reasons why I love painting bluebell scenes – to preserve this unique English spectacle for longer. Now, if only I could find a paint that has the same sweet perfume…



12 responses to “In And Out The Dusty Bluebells

  1. Thank you Kit for an informative and heart warming blog. They are one of my favourites too, especially the carpets of colour and the perfume. Does lift one’s heart. At first I thought I had Spanish variety in my garden but they are highly scented and on close examination are English! Love the painting too.

    • Pleased to hear yours are the English variety, Jane. I have both types in my garden and am forever pulling up the invaders. Thank you for comment about the painting too. After this season’s glorious display feel a few more bluebell scenes coming on.:)

  2. I enjoyed the bluebell facts and share your concern that the new and imported variety is taking over as losing natures fragrance is a shame. We’re taking a trip down to a lilac farm tomorrow to hopefully purchase some scented flora for the garden.

    The painting is beautiful. For anyone that hasn’t visited Kits site and seen her work the website is at

    • I love lilac, Lavada. My garden is too small to grow one. A near neighbour grew a glorious one and used to let me pick as much as I wanted. Then they moved and new people cut down the tree. Such a shame. Do hope you manage to find something nice for your garden at the centre.

      Thank you for the link to my website, too. I do appreciate it.

  3. Wow, Kit, that painting is beautiful. What a talent you have for drawing nature into our living rooms. And that’s sad that your native species is fading out. Blue Bells always make me smile, too, although we don’t have such a special native type like you do. Enjoy them while you can.

  4. Beautiful flowers and great lesson on how to differentiate them! AND you are so very talented. What a gorgeous painting. Jillian

  5. Kit, that painting is amazing. You are such a talented lady! I just love bluebells, and especially enjoy seeing carpets of them in the local woods. I really enjoyed your blog, very informative.

    Tricia … who is off to check her own bluebells in the hope they are British!

  6. Valerie J. Patterson

    I so enjoy your perspective, Kit because you see such beauty all around you whether it be a field of flowers or an ancient building. Your painting is lovely, and such satisfaction to sell your work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s