The hidden magic of bluebells

This is the time of year that Rocky Valley turns blue in a wonderful carpet of bluebells. 

Bluebells are unmistakable bell-shaped perennial herbs. They actually spend the majority of their time underground as bulbs, emerging, often in droves, to flower from April onwards.

The UK contains up to 49% of the world’s population of bluebells; although they are threatened by habitat loss as they love ancient or natural woodland.

The bluebell is the flower of St George, as it usually starts to bloom around St George’s Day on 23rd April and has many names: English bluebell, wild hyacinth, wood bell, bell bottle, Cuckoo’s Boots, Wood Hyacinth, Lady’s Nightcap and Witches’ Thimbles.

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.  Not surprisingly, it was considered unlucky to trample on a bed of bluebells, because you would anger the fairies resting there.  

There’s an interesting belief that wearing a garland of bluebells will induce you to speak only the truth.

No garland today, so you’ll just have to believe that these are bluebell truths:

  • Mediaeval archers used to use the sap from bluebells to stick their feathers (fletches) to their arrows. It has also been used in bookbinding because it would repel attacks by insects.
  • It is against the law to intentionally pick, uproot or destroy bluebells.
  • If you plant bluebells, you should make sure it’s the English bluebell, not the Spanish version. This is a larger and more vigorous plant and could out-compete our delicate native flower
  • Bluebell colonies take a long time to establish – around 5-7 years from seed to flower.
  • Bluebells can take years to recover after footfall damage. If a bluebell’s leaves are crushed, they die back from lack of food as the leaves cannot photosynthesise. 

So next time you happen across this pretty little flower, remember, there’s a lot more to the bluebell than you think and if you hear bells ringing…run!

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