Bluebells & Hyacinths

Common Bluebell Hybrid Bluebell Hybrid Bluebell Common Hyacinth

What are they?

Perennial, herbacous plants growing from subterranean bulbs. Our native Common Bluebell is one of the greatest of our natural treasures in the British Isles and our islands hold a significant percentage of the world population. The sight - and heady scent - of a woodland carpeted in blue during April is one of the highlights of the naturalist's year, while the nation's love of these plants has seen them widely cultivated in gardens.

Where are they found?

Our native species is found commonly and often in great abundance in wooded areas, especially in older woodland that has been coppiced. Other species are non-native but are commonly cultivated and may be found in churchyards, amenity areas and a wide range of roadside and grassy habitats.

Identification

The leaves and growth styles are all rather similar, so identification of this group is based mainly on flowers. Details of the shape of the mature flower spike should be noted and precise details of the flower shape - especially whether the individuals tepals are curved at the tip or not - are important. Also note the colour of the anthers as well as overall size of the flowers.



Common Bluebell      Hyacinthoides non-scripta

Native and found in abundance in old woodland and hedgebanks as well as occasionally where planted. Often survives long after a wood is felled and so may also be found in more open sites. Flowers April to May. Flowers pendant and forming a one-sided spike when fully open; open flowers are broadly tubular or very narrowly bell-shaped with parallel sides and the tepal tips curling well back on themselves. Anthers cream-coloured. Deep, violet-blue and heavily scented, but may rarely be pink or white, such plants usually being found within large colonies of blue ones. Leaves relatively narrow, 7-15mm wide.

Common Bluebell Common Bluebell Common Bluebell Common Bluebell
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Hybrid Bluebell      Hyacinthoides x massartiana

Introduced as a garden plant, this hybrid between the native Common Bluebell and the introduced Spanish Bluebell is abundant in the wider countryside, both where planted and where naturally seeding in grassy places, roadsides and - especially - in many urban environments. Widely sold by the horticultural trade as 'Spanish Bluebells' and even as native bluebells. Flowers April to May. Flowers only semi-pendant, in an upright spike; open flowers 10-20mm in diameter, bell-shaped with the tepal tips curling outwards but are variable and can closely resemble either parent. Anthers whitish or with bluish tint. Leaves generally intermediate in size between the parents, 10-30mm wide, but there is a certain amount of overlap. Pale to bright blue, pink or white. Because this hybrid is fertile, it can backcross with the parents and produce a wide range of intermediates. Any bluebell not exactly fitting the description of either Common or Spanish Bluebell should be presumed to be this hybrid.

Hybrid Bluebell Hybrid Bluebell Hybrid Bluebell Hybrid Bluebell
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Leaves (L to R): Spanish, Hybrid & Common Bluebells


Spanish Bluebell      Hyacinthoides hispanica

Introduced from southern Europe as a garden plant and rarely found in churchyards or grassy places. Greatly confused with forms of the Hybrid Bluebell and only reliably recorded from a handful of places in the East Anglia region. Flowers April to May. Flowers more or less facing straight out at right angles to the main stem when fully open, in an upright spike; open flowers 15-25mm in diameter, fully bell-shaped with the tepals spreading but not curling outwards. Anthers blue. Leaves broad, 20-50mm wide, but with some overlap with larger hybrids. Almost always pale to bright blue, but pink or white forms do rarely occur. Plants not showing the full set of features - especially flower shape - should be presumed to be hybrids.

Spanish Bluebell Spanish Bluebell Spanish Bluebell Spanish Bluebell
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Common Hyacinth      Hyacinthus orientalis

Originally introduced from Asia Minor but now much cultivated and occasionally found as a short-lived garden throw-out. Flowers April to May. Flowers with relatively narrow sepals and thus more open and star-shaped than the bluebells. May be pink, white, any shade of blue, or even yellowish in colour with recently cultivated plants having dense, tall flower spikes. Plants that are self-sustaining seem to get weaker over the years and flower spikes can even consist of just two or three flowers before the plants finally give up the ghost.

Common Hyacinth Common Hyacinth Common Hyacinth Common Hyacinth
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