Bluebells are native to western Europe with the UK being a species stronghold. They’re associated with ancient woodlandand are often used in combination with other species as a clue that a wood is ancient. They reach their greatest densities in the UK’s woods where many thousands of bulbs can exist in one woodland, creating the incredible blue carpets we fondly associate with spring. They also grow along hedgerows and in fields.
Value to wildlife
Many insects reap the benefits of bluebells which flower earlier than many other plants. Woodland butterflies, bees and hoverflies all feed on their nectar. Bees can ‘steal’ the nectar from bluebells by biting a hole in the bottom of the flower, reaching the nectar without the need to pollinate the flower.
Mythology and symbolism
There are countless folklore tales surrounding bluebells, many of which involve dark fairy magic. Bluebell woods are believed to be intricately woven with fairy enchantments, used by these mischievous beings to trap humans. It is also said that if you hear a bluebell ring, you will be visited by a bad fairy, and will die not long after. If you are to pick a bluebell, many believe you will be led astray by fairies, wandering lost forevermore.
In the language of flowers, the bluebell is a symbol of humility, constancy, gratitude and everlasting love. It is said that if you turn a bluebell flower inside-out without tearing it, you will win the one you love, and if you wear a wreath of bluebells you will only be able to speak the truth.
Uses of bluebells
Bluebells have been used for a variety of different things throughout history, not just for ornamental purposes. Their sticky sap was once used to bind the pages of books and glue the feathers onto arrows, and during the Elizabethan period, their bulbs were crushed to make starch for the ruffs of collars and sleeves. Due to their toxicity, there has been little use for bluebells in modern medicine. However, their bulbs have diuretic (increases urination) and styptic (helps to stop bleeding) properties, and research on how these flowers could potentially help fight cancer is ongoing.
Threats and conservation
While the bluebell is still common throughout Britain, it is under threat locally from habitat destruction, hybridisation with non-native bluebells and the illegal trade of wild-collected bulbs. Bluebells can take years to recover from the damage caused by trampling, and if their leaves are crushed they can be weakened (as they can no longer photosynthesise).
The bluebell is protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). This means digging up the plant or bulb in the countryside is prohibited and landowners are prohibited from removing bluebells from their land to sell. The species was also listed on Schedule 8 of the Act in 1998, which makes trading in wild bluebell bulbs and seeds an offence. This legislation was designed to protect bluebell from unscrupulous bulb collectors who supply garden centres.
Six top tips for photographing bluebells
Bluebells in woodlands are one of the joys of spring, but they are not the easiest subject to photograph. The dappled light in woodlands presents a range of challenges, ranging from depth of field and exposure, to problems with contrast and colour. Read more..
Mid-April to May is when the bluebells at Basildon Park transform the woodland with swathes of colour. The sight of bluebells means winter is really over and we can start enjoying warm spring afternoons exploring the parkland at Basildon Park.
Help us take care of the bluebells at Basildon Park
Bluebells add a beautiful splash of colour to so many woods across the UK, and walking amongst them can be irresistible. Getting up close with the delicate flowers may be tempting, but they are very fragile, and even the most careful can cause damage to them.
Help us protect the bluebells at Basildon Park by sticking to the paths and avoiding stepping on these sensitive plants where possible.
Bowdown Woods is just south of Thatcham, near Newbury, in Berkshire. the Wood has three surfaced car parks and the footpaths through the trees are all surfaced, making it great for accessibility. Unlike some of the nearby Berkshire walks Bowdown Woods is completely off road and is ideal for dog walking and for taking a day out with the kids.
When you visit in spring you may be lucky to hear woodlarks singing across the heath. On brash and log piles, look out for adders basking in the sun. You can also see grass snake, common lizard and slow-worm, and the large pond supports a breeding population of palmate newts.
In the spring, the woodland floor is covered with bluebells. The woodland trees are home to great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, tawny owl and grey squirrel. Whilst the shrubs and scrub provide an ideal habitat for smaller birds such as robins, wrens and warblers.
Sulham Valley is unspoilt , but is close to built up areas. It has two rivers - The Pang and Sulham brook running through it. The woods are on the lower ground.
This diverse woodland wildlife treasure trove astride the River Pang is a haven of peace and beauty, renowned for its flowers, butterflies and moths.Moor Copse is a wonderful reserve to visit all year round. In spring, woodland flowers and meadow flowers provide a colourful carpet whilst birds sing their hearts out.
Going west out of Streatley on the B4009, a steep hill leads to a car park on the right. Enter this and, on the left, take the footpath to the Golf Course (beware of golf balls). From the top of the hill enjoy the views of the Golf Course and surrounding area, with The Ridgeway Path at the bottom of the valley. The wide grassy areas of the Golf Course contrast with the woods and areas of thicket. Listen to the birds in the woods. On this walk look for pyramid orchids, and other wild flowers in the season. A grassy path leads downhill and then passes through some trees.
- Bluebell Walks
See the picturesque bluebells of West Woods as part of your next forest adventure. Located south of Marlborough, West Woods is a very beautiful former ancient woodland site. The woodland becomes very popular in late spring due to the fantastic displays of bluebells which carpet the forest floor in certain areas. There is a good network of walking trails including an easy access route for you to explore. Please help us protect the forest by only cycling on stone-surfaced forest roads and bridleways.
This pocket of woodland provides a breathing space for wildlife in west Swindon and a peaceful place where workers can take a lunchtime stroll. In April and May you can enjoy a stunning display of native bluebells. The copse was planted some time before 1766 and belonged to the Lydiard Park estate. Oak was harvested for the building industry and coppiced hazel was used for fencing. Coppiced trees produce new shoots and this is a traditional way of harvesting wood.
From mid-April, you can lose yourself amongst these enchanting blooms and become a part of their survival story. Deep in Morgaston Woods, a network of paths weave through the swathes of hazy blue that carpet the woodland floor.
Daffodils and other spring bulbs signal the start of spring at the Arboretum. Look out for other spring plants like crocus, scilla (which look a little like bluebells, and can be found at the base of some of the larger oaks), and lesser celandine.
When the Daphne bholua 'Darjeeling' flowers in early spring you’ll smell it before you see it! It releases a divine scent attracting visitors down the Serpentine Ride. In the Magnolia Glade gentle whites, creams and pinks are joined by a delicate sweet aroma from some of our magnolias, including Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel'.
In the coppice visitors should make the most of the opportunity for a closer look at the method used to lay a hedge before this year's leaves cover the hard work of our arborists, volunteers, and course attendees.
Late spring is a glorious time to visit the Arboretum. Our collection of azaleas and rhododendrons are flowering in a stunning range of colours, including Rhododendron ‘Jean Marie de Montague’, Azalea ‘Marconi’, Rhododendron ‘Goldinetta’, and Rhododendron ‘Seven Stars’. Also along the Serpentine Ride are a number of delicate flowering trees such as Cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree) and Halesia Carolina (Snowdrop Tree).
By the end of April visitors will be able to see the bluebells beginning to flower and open in Bluebell Wood. While you are walking look out for busy wildlifepreparing for the season ahead. Many different types of bird will be found on the bird feeders near the ticket office. Tits, nuthatches and finches are all busy preparing their nests and raising chicks. Our peacocks are calling and displaying magnificently, while the peahens take it easy. Look upwards to catch a sight of a circling red kite or buzzard.
In spring, the woodland is awash with spectacular bluebells and wood anemones
Breathtaking beauty in this ancient woodland famed for its spectacular spring bluebells, abundant birdlife and fabulous fungi.
- Further Afield