Welcome to the first species of the week post! This is a new blog series where I will be taking a quick, in-focus look at a particular organism, giving you the crucial facts and my own observations. This week is that lilac-lustred English beauty – the Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta, so prepare your brain for some rapid-fire factoids coming in at your eyeballs.
I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon recently walking through a woodland which is known to me for its bluebell display, I have been there in April on many occasions and it did not disappoint this year. With Chiffchaffs singing in the open canopy, fresh beech leaves just popping out of their sheaves and a fair amount of mud underfoot (to be expected at this time of year) the wood was already in the fullness of spring. A stream trickles through a part of the wood, its banks slope up gently on either side and are smothered in the glossy green leaves and floppy spearheads of bluebells. Blue-on-green with the delicate and proud forms of beeches rising out of the colours, the scent is very floral but not overpowering – it is difficult to describe or remember after the event. Further on the lilac-purple-blue flowers become so thick they are a haze where individual plants have no meaning – it is a solid organic conglomeration, a super-organism like a swarm of ants or bees growing together to dominate the woodland floor and create a scene of transcendent beauty unlike any other.
- The UK has over half of the world population of Bluebells.
- Bluebells are in the Lily family, in Scotland the Harebell is a Bluebell however so to avoid confusion it is best to call it a wild hyacinth when in that country.
- A large population of Bluebells in a wood is a good indication that the wood has ancient roots.
- Bluebells are locally threatened by illegal picking, hybridisation with the Spanish Bluebell and habitat destruction.
- The sap of the plant used to be used as a glue in medieval times for attaching the guiding feathers to arrows.
- It flowers from April to late May but is best at the end of April, its distribution runs along the Atlantic coast from northern Spain, through France and most of Britain and Ireland apart from some parts of northern Scotland and the northern isles.
- It is a monocot perennial, growing from bulbs each year, it reproduces both sexually via seeds and asexually via underground tubers. The seeds are heavy and the tubers spread slowly so it takes decades to reach large numbers in the wild.
- It is a protected species under the wildlife and countryside act 1981, making it a criminal offence to uproot a bluebell bulb or to sell wild bluebells commercially with a fine up to £5000 per bulb.