Do bluebells grow in france

Growing Bluebells: Care Of Wood Hyacinth Bluebells

Bluebell flowers are dainty bulbous perennials that provide a profusion of color ranging from deep purple to pinks, whites and blues from April to mid May. Although some confusion may arrive from various English and Latin names, most bluebells are also known as wood hyacinths.

English and Spanish Bluebells

English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are native to France and England and have been gracing gardens and wooded areas with their beautiful bluish-purple flowers since the early 1500’s. These spring delights reach heights of 12 inches and can be planted in the fall for spring bloom. The flowers are fragrant and make a wonderful addition to any cut bouquet. An interesting feature of English bluebell is that the flowers are all on the same side of the stalk, and when gravity kicks in the stalk bends in a dainty curve.

Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) are similar in many ways to English bluebells apart from the fact that they bloom in open areas and are rarely found in woods. Spanish bluebell stalks are straight and do not display the curve as seen in English bluebells. Spanish bluebells do not have as strong a fragrance as English bluebells either and tend to bloom a bit later. Flowers can be blue, pink or white.

Growing Bluebells

The care of wood hyacinth plants requires minimal energy. These easy-to-please bulbs naturalize rapidly and prefer well-drained soil with a high organic content.

Like Virginia bluebells, wood hyacinths will thrive in shade or part-sun in the South and will tolerate full sun in northerly climates. Unlike some plants, bluebells will quickly multiply under the shade of large trees. Both English and Spanish Bluebells make excellent transition bulbs between early-spring bloomers and early summer perennials. Bluebells are excellent companions to hostas, ferns and other woodland native plants.

Planting Bluebell Flowers

Plant bluebell bulbs after the heat of summer has passed or in early fall. Several bulbs can be placed in the same 2-inch deep hole.

Water the bulbs frequently over the fall and winter for best performance.

Divide during the summer months, once the plant has gone dormant. Bluebells grow best when they are left to naturalize in shade gardens or woodland settings.


My younger brother has ten acres of ancient woodland on his farm in Nottinghamshire. This wood is at least four hundred years old and may be much older. Like many such woodland it is carpeted by hundreds of thousands of bluebells during spring. As a boy in the 1950s I was besotted by a nearby bluebell wood. The stillness, the quiet of this special place was only broken by bird song and the ratatatat of a pair of great spotted woodpeckers drilling a nesting hole in one of the old trees.

I used to pick bunches of bluebells including the rare white and amethyst pink forms for my mother. I once took a bunch to a favourite aunt but she was horrified that I’d picked them and refused to have them in her house. I later found out that superstitious people, and my aunt was just that, believed that children who picked bluebells would disappear off the face of the earth and that if the flowers were brought into the house they would bring bad luck.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta, the English bluebell, is a native of western Europe from north-western Spain to the British Isles including Belgium, France, Ireland and the Netherlands. In Australian gardens you are more likely to find the Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, which is a better doer here. Sadly this species is also a strong grower in the UK and it or its hybrids with the native species have taken over many southern English bluebell woods.

The English bluebell can be readily distinguished from the Spanish species by its smaller size, narrower leaves, one sided nodding inflorescence and a fragrance which is lacking in H. hispanica.

I do grow H. non-scripta in the garden but it is nowhere near as telling as some of the selected Spanish bluebell clones such as the 40cm tall ‘Excelsior’ which carries thirty or more large bells, each with a pronounced flare at the base of every lobe. The mauve blue flowers, with a deeper blue stripe down each lobe, are held elegantly and symmetrically around a strong stem.

I have two amethyst pink varieties ‘Queen of the Pinks’ and ‘Dainty Maiden’ The former is slightly more robust than the latter but otherwise it’s hard to tell any difference between them. Both are very beautiful with large flared bells on 35 cm tall stems.

There’s a large planting of the H. hispanica ‘White City’ under an old Japanese maple in a garden near the house. This variety is beautiful in both leaf and flower. The white bells are so clean and the green leaves are so fresh. When it’s in flower I sit on the veranda and melt with the wonder of it all.

H. hispanica ‘Excelsior’ H. hispanica ‘White City’ H. non-scripta ‘Queen of the Pinks’

10 Amazing Facts About Bluebells

7 Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) is a non-native garden escapee threatening our native species. The easiest way to tell the difference between native and non-native bluebells is to look at the colour of the pollen.

If it is creamy-white then it is native – any other colour such as pale green or blue means it’s non-native.

The native flower stem droops or nods distinctly to one side whereas the non-native’s stem is stiff and upright. Native flowers have a strong, sweet scent whereas non-native are almost odourless.

8 Archaeological evidence has shown that Bronze Age people used bluebell glue to attach feathers to, or ‘fletch’, their arrows.

9 Bluebells are also called ‘fairy flowers.’ According to an old myth, fairies used bluebells to lure and trap people passing by in the woods – especially children!

10 Bluebells are poisonous and contain about 15 biologically active compounds to defend themselves from animals and insect pests. But scientists are now researching how these toxic chemicals could one day help treat cancer.

Identify bluebells

Does it matter that we have both in the wild?

The UK’s woodlands are home to almost 50% of the world’s population of the bluebell. But this much-loved plant is under threat. The Spanish bluebell is more vigorous than our native bluebell, so can outcompete it for resources like light and space. It can hybridise with our native, too, producing fertile plants that show a whole range of mixed features from both species. Over time, this hybridisation changes the genetic makeup of our native species, diluting its characteristics, weakening it and potentially evolving it into something else.

It is now thought that most bluebells in urban areas are actually hybrids. A study by Plantlife has also found that one in six broadleaved woodlands contained hybrids or the Spanish bluebell.

Does it make a difference what I plant in my garden?

Introduced species can become naturalised in the UK without much cause for concern. However, as with the Spanish bluebell, their effects are not always so benign, so be careful if you prefer non-native varieties in your planting as species can easily escape – it’s best to dispose of cuttings or bulbs carefully and never plant anything in the wild.

If you fancy planting bluebells in a shady part of your garden, try to pick the native variety. Not only will you help to prevent the spread of invasive, non-native species into the wider countryside, but you will also provide food and shelter for a range of our native insects, from bees to butterflies.

Virginia Bluebells

Virginia Bluebells

Add woodland beauty to your garden with Virginia bluebells. A spring ephemeral native to eastern North America, Virginia bluebells are perennials with blue, bell-shape flowers that open above bright green foliage in midspring. Flowering for about three weeks, Virginia bluebells, also called eastern bluebells and Virginia cowslip, bloom at the same time as most flowering bulbs. Pair Virginia bluebells with bright yellow daffodils</…; for a classic spring color combination that is sure to kick off the gardening season with gusto.

genus name
  • Mertensia virginiana
  • Part Sun,
  • Sun
plant type
  • Perennial
  • 1 to 3 feet
  • Up to 2 feet
flower color
  • Blue,
  • White
season features
  • Spring Bloom
problem solvers
  • Deer Resistant,
  • Groundcover
special features
  • Low Maintenance
  • 3,
  • 4,
  • 5,
  • 6,
  • 7,
  • 8
  • Division

Planning a Garden with Virginia Bluebells

Grow Virginia bluebells alongside tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and other petite spring bulbs. Bluebells’ soft, herbaceous foliage is a great texture complement to the rigid and straplike foliage of many bulbs. Virginia bluebells self-seed. Expect them to pop up between clumps of spring bulbs, creating a casual cottage garden style over time.

At the beginning of summer, Virginia bluebells recede into the soil. Their foliage slowly dies back and an empty space extends where the cheerful purple blossoms once stood. Plan for bluebells’ early retirement, and your garden color show will hardly miss a beat. Plant Virginia bluebells with other shade-loving perennials such as hosta, astilbe, bugbane, Solomon’s seal, and ferns. These perennials are just beginning to poke out of the ground when bluebells are ringing in spring. After bluebells fade, hosta, astilbe, and other shade-lovers take over the show, unfurling bold leaves and colorful flowers.

See more flowering perennials from spring to fall here.

Virginia Bluebells Care Must-Knows

Virginia bluebells grow best in part shade and moist soil. Their native habitat is moist woodland areas. When planted in moist, shaded locations, they will readily self-seed, forming a river of nodding blue flowers for three weeks or so each spring. Some gardeners find Virginia bluebells to self-seed so prolifically that they almost become invasive.

Plant 10 to 18 inches apart in fall or after the last frost in spring. Enrich the soil with well-decomposed compost prior to planting. Cover the soil around plants with a 2-inch-thick layer of shredded mulch or compost, and water plants regularly during the first year after planting.

Special note: This North American native is considered threatened in its native range. Never dig up Virginia bluebells from the wild and transplant them to your landscape. By removing plants from a native area, you are contributing to its habitat destruction. Instead, purchase transplants at a reputable garden center, or dig and divide a Virginia bluebell planting from a friend’s cultivated landscape.

Try these made-for-shade groundcovers in your landscaping.

Plant Virginia Bluebells With:

One of the longest bloomers in the garden, hardy geranium bears little flowers for months at a time. It produces jewel-tone, saucer-shape flowers and mounds of handsome, lobed foliage. It needs full sun, but otherwise it is a tough and reliable plant, thriving in a wide assortment of soils. Many of the best are hybrids. Perennial geraniums may form large colonies.

The glossy green leaves of bergenia look outstanding all year long. In fall they take on a magnificent reddish-bronze hue. The thick, leathery foliage squeaks when rubbed between your fingers, giving this plant the other common name of pigsqueak.The pink, rose, or white blooms that appear on sturdy stalks in spring are just a bonus compared to the usefulness of the foliage. Not surprisingly, this is often used as groundcover. In cold regions, the semievergreen leaves are often damaged by spring frosts and can take much of the spring to recover.

Phlox are one of those bounteous summer flowers any large sunny flowerbed or border shouldn’t be without. There are several different kinds of phlox. Garden and meadow phlox produce large panicles of fragrant flowers in a wide assortment of colors. They also add height, heft, and charm to a border. Low-growing wild Sweet William, moss pinks, and creeping phlox are effective as ground covers, at the front of the border, and as rock and wild garden plants, especially in light shade. These native gems have been hybridized extensively especially to toughen the foliage against mildew problems; many recent selections are mildew-resistant. Phlox need amply moist soil for best overall health.

Special Collections

Wildflowers of the Eastern Woodlands

Deciduous forests cover much of the eastern United States, gradually giving way to coniferous forests farther north and grasslands to the west. Dominated by deciduous trees, eastern forests typically have several vertical layers of vegetation, including a dense, upper canopy of mature trees; a subcanopy of smaller or immature trees; and an understory of shrubs and low-growing herbaceous plants. Many woodland wildflowers, called spring ephemerals, bloom before the trees have leafed out; other species, which can tolerate partial or complete shade, flower later. The species in this collection comprise some of the most common spring wildflowers in eastern deciduous forests.

Printer Friendly: Species List | List with Images | List with QR Tags to Mobile

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scientific name common name(s) image gallery
Actaea rubra Red Baneberry
Anemone quinquefolia Wood Anemone
Aquilegia canadensis Eastern Red Columbine
Wild Red Columbine
Aralia nudicaulis Wild Sarsaparilla
Arisaema triphyllum Jack In The Pulpit
Indian Jack In The Pulpit
Caltha palustris Yellow Marsh Marigold
Clintonia borealis Bluebead
Yellow Bluebead-lily
Blue-bead Lily
Claytonia caroliniana Carolina Springbeauty
Cornus canadensis Bunchberry Dogwood
Canadian Bunchberry
Cypripedium acaule Moccasin Flower
Pink Lady’s Slipper
scientific name common name(s) image gallery

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Priestley Wood, Suffolk

A visit to Priestley Wood in spring or early summer should test even the most knowledgeable plant-identifier. Some 130 flowering plants have been recorded in the woods, which have been designated a site of special scientific interest. There are relatively large populations of the twayblade orchid, the common spotted orchid, wild garlic, broad-leaved helleborine, herb Paris, primrose and the ever-popular bluebell. Most of Suffolk’s nettle-leaved bellflowers and woodruffs can be found here. Tear yourself away from the flowers for a moment to look at the trees and, scattered among the ash, maple, oak, cherry, hazel and hawthorn, you may spot some important specimens of small-leaved lime and hornbeam. More notable still is a single wild pear, one of only two in the county. Don’t try any of the small brown fruit. They are not edible.

Killaloo Wood, County Derry

Be prepared to exert yourself if you decide to explore the steep pathways through this valley woodland just outside the city of Derry, but all the bluebells, wood anemone, wood sorrel and wild garlic make the effort worthwhile. The name Derry comes from the Irish word for oak grove, so it’s not difficult to guess what the dominant tree here is. Less expected, perhaps, are the wild goats that roam the valley and shelter in the woods. Look upwards for a chance of spotting a purple hairstreak butterfly, one of the rarest butterflies in Northern Ireland, which is most likely to be seen flitting around in the tree canopy, and listen out for the screaming call of the jay, a clue that this woodland bird with a distinctive white rump is about to take flight.

Carstramon Wood, Dumfries and Galloway

Renowned for the spectacular display of bluebells that covers the woodland floor every May, Carstramon boasts a number of other native flowering plants characteristic of old woodlands. Look beyond the dazzling sea of blue to enjoy other spring-flowering beauties such as wood violet, primrose, honeysuckle and wood sorrel, with its small white flowers streaked with pink. Flowering amid the bracken, you may see another spring bloom, the climbing corydalis, which is the only food source for a rare weevil that lives here and which was once thought to be extinct. Carstramon is the largest of four oak woodlands in the Fleet Valley and is a remnant of the ancient forests that once covered the whole region. Remember to stick to footpaths to avoid damaging the flowers, many of which are endangered species.

Duncliffe Wood, Dorset

Duncliffe Wood near Shaftesbury has been designated a site of nature conservation interest, largely because of its rich variety of ground flora. Visit in springtime and you’ll find the woodland floor covered in a thick carpet of bluebells. Other notable spring-flowering species include yellow archangel, early purple orchids and the long-flowering wood speedwell, whose tiny lilac flowers provide important early nectar for bees. At dusk, you should detect the faint musky scent of moschatel, also known as the Good Friday plant. Among the rich mix of trees, look out for the small-leaved lime. In summer, this now rare species buzzes with insects enjoying its creamy-white, sweet-smelling flowers. Historically, this is the wood that morris dancing sticks were made of, chosen because of its unusually tight grain, which doesn’t splinter when struck.

Lumb Brook Valley, Cheshire

Come spring, Lumb Brook Valley is brought to life by swathes of bluebells, lords-and-ladies, white wood anemones, sunshine-yellow lesser celandine and candy-pink dog rose, all taking advantage of the extra light reaching the woodland floor before the canopy closes over with newly opened leaves. In parts, the ground flora has been crowded out by dense areas of rhododendron, but a phased removal of these has started, to allow more breathing space for less aggressive native plants and to increase light levels around the brook. There are also plans to fell over-mature pine, sycamore, horse chestnut and beech, and restock the wood with local species such as the pedunculate oak, wild cherry, rowan, birch and ash.

Coed Cefn, Powys

Given that Coed Cefn is known locally as Bluebell Wood, you can be fairly sure of a stunning display of these flowers every spring. Look out for drifts of wood violets in April and, as the bluebells start to fade, the dark pink-red flowers of red campion and gold-tinged yellow archangel. Most of the woodland canopy consists of oak and beech, with self-sown ash predominant on the southern side. In the heart of the woods is a low circular mound, the site of an Iron Age fort, which was cleared of conifers in 2003 and restocked with native broad-leaved species. Felled trees were left in stacks to rot down, providing valuable habitats for the many insects that live in dead wood and in turn feed much of the bird population.

Big Wood, Cheshire

Right on the northern edge of Runcorn, wedged between the Daresbury Expressway and a slender canal, Big Wood is a peaceful wildlife haven in an intensely urban environment. Its colourful, 900-year history, as part of the adjacent Norton Priory estate, features medieval Black Canons of the Augustinian order and Brooke family barons until the 1920s. Today it is a roughly rectangular stretch of woodland, comprised mostly of pedunculate and turkey oak, sycamore, silver birch, yew, willow, poplar and Scots pine, with a historic sandstone ha-ha (a ditch bordered by a wall) along the eastern border and a planted pond in the middle. Though beautifully pink and crimson, the rampant rhododendron has been progressively thinned out in an effort to nurture the hundred or so other species of plants that carpet the glades, including bluebells, liverwort, bramble and bracken.

Heartwood Forest, Hertfordshire

Near St Albans, a mere 40km (25 miles) from London, the Woodland Trust has started work creating England’s largest new native forest. For now, much of the site’s 347 hectares (858 acres) is still being farmed but there is already plenty to explore, including four pockets of ancient woodland that are covered each April with drifts of English bluebells. If you visit earlier in the year, look out for blankets of tiny white wood anemone and the yellow lesser celandine, sometimes called the spring messenger, which provide essential pollen for bumblebees as they come out of hibernation. Plans for Heartwood include planting a total of 600,000 native trees, a community orchard (local schoolchildren helped plant the first fruit trees in 2010), wildflower meadows and miles of footpaths. Given the scale of the project, volunteers are always welcome.

Eridge Rocks, East Sussex

In Victorian times, the gigantic boulders of Eridge Rocks played host to theatrical woodland dinner parties. If you are an experienced rock climber, you might like to scale the face of this long sandstone cliff – but note, the rocks are dangerous and many parts are out of bounds because of the host of ferns, mosses, liverworts and lichens that grow in the nooks and fissures, notably the extremely rare Tunbridge filmy fern. More than 70% of the High Weald’s woodland is classed as ancient – at Domesday in 1086 it was the most densely wooded area in England – and come spring you can enjoy primroses, green-winged orchids, sweet vernal grass, yellow archangel, wild garlic, common dog violet and cuckoo pink. Scan the bluebell drifts for coralroot, a scarce woodland orchid that flowers at the same time and is found naturally only in the Weald and the Chilterns.

Vogrie Country Park, Midlothian

Only 20km (12 miles) south-east out of Edinburgh, you can stroll along the 9km (almost six miles) of marked pathways that meander through the tranquil woods and parklands of Vogrie Country Park. Native oak, alder and rowan trees rub shoulders with exotic imports such as western red cedar and sequoia, a throwback to the estate’s Victorian heyday, and the woodland floor blooms continuously from spring, when the anemones and bluebells show their heads, through to late summer. Even a visit in the depths of winter will offer up snowdrops and aconites to brighten the view. If you prefer a wilder feel to your woodland, take one of the steeper paths to the Tyne Valley, where you will be further away from the bustle of the park’s cafes and play areas, which get particularly busy in the summer.

Woodland phlox in habitat in a maple woods in southern Wisconsin.

Woodland phlox, Phlox divaricata, is an eastern North American native increasingly offered as an ornamental to use in cultivated gardens for its attractive bluish flowers. This herbaceous perennial in the phlox family (Polemoniaceae) can be found growing in dappled shade in open woods, partially shaded meadows, and along stream banks from Quebec to Florida and west to Texas and the Rockies. This plant, also sometimes is referred to by other common names including blue phlox, Louisiana phlox, wild blue phlox and wild sweet William, is hardy in zones 3 to 8. It is taller and has a more open habit than the very common, sun-loving creeping phlox or moss (P. subulata) and does not spread as quickly as that species does. Another woodland species, P. stolonifera also called creeping phlox, is much shorter at only 6-8 inches tall, forms dense clumps, has oval leaves and fewer lavender to pink blooms in the flower clusters, and is only hardy to zone 5.

Phlox stolonifera (L and cultivar ‘Sherwood Purple’, LC) is shorter than P. divaricata. P. subulata, including the cultivars ‘White Delight’ (RC) and ‘Candy Stripe’ (R), is shorter, more compact and needs full sun.

Woodland phlox grows from a shallow root system, slowly spreading over time (divaricata means “with a spreading and straggling habit”). This is one of the only Phlox spp. to have both fertile (flowering) and infertile (non-flowering) shoots. The root system produces stolons which develop into non-flowering shoots as it forms a loose mat of foliage up to a foot high. Stems are hairy and sticky (from glandular hairs) with opposite, sessile, hairy, lance-shaped to elliptic leaves up to 2” long with entire margins arranged in widely spaced pairs. The leafy shoots will root at the nodes if they flop onto the ground, also increasing the spread of the colony. The mostly unbranched flowering stems tend to be longer (to 15 inches tall) and more densely hairy than the infertile shoots, and the leaves on the infertile shoots are generally wider with more rounded tips and less hairy. The flowering stems die back after seeds are produced, leaving a rounded mound of semi-evergreen (in mild climates) dark green foliage to produce and store energy for the development of the following year’s flowering shoots. When not in bloom the plant is fairly nondescript and particularly as it begins to decline in summer could be mistaken for a weed.

Woodland phlox shoots in spring (L and R) and closeup of leaves (LC) and hairy foliage (RC).

For about a month in late spring to early summer plants produce loose clusters of salverform flowers at the stem tips. Each tubular flower, 1-1½ inches wide, has five flat, petal-like lobes at the end and a hairy green or reddish green calyx with 5 linear teeth. The spreading lobes may be notched (subspecies divaricata, generally in the eastern part of the range) or entire (subspecies laphamii, generally in the western part of the range). There are five stamens and a single pistil recessed inside the narrow corolla throat so are not readily visible. The sweetly fragrant flowers come in shades of blue from pale lavender to violet-blue, and occasionally pastel pink or white. The showy flowers attract butterflies, moths, bees, and flies.

Flowers are produced in loose clusters (L two) from furled buds (LC) and may be various colors (R three).

The flowers (which require cross-pollination to produce seed) are only pollinated by long-tongued insects including butterflies (especially tiger swallowtails), skippers, hummingbird clearwing and sphinx moths, and bumblebees which are able to reach the nectar produced at the base of the long tube, but the flowers are visited by many other insects that feed on the pollen produced near the end of the tube. Flowers may be followed by rounded fruits that start out green and eventually dry to brown ovoid seed capsules that eventually split to release several small black seeds. This plant will self-sow, but it is not aggressive and unwanted seedlings are easily pulled up or transplanted.


After flowering the petals are shed (L) and if pollinated a capsule is produced (LC) with each of the small capsules (RC) eventually splitting to release the small black seeds (R).

Phlox divaricata in a woodland garden with red trillium.

Use woodland phlox in native woodland gardens, naturalized areas, or the front of informal borders and in shady rock gardens. Interplant with early spring bulbs to help disguise the senescing bulb foliage. Use along a path or near a window where the lovely scent can be appreciated when they are in bloom. This species can be used as a loose ground cover, but is not dense enough to outcompete most weeds. It goes well with earlier-blooming spring woodland ephemerals such as bellwort, bloodroot, Jack in the Pulpit (Arisema spp.), and trilliums. Combine it with other shade-loving plants such as small to medium hostas, astilbes, bleeding heart, columbines, hellebores, heucheras, lungwort and ferns where it will spread in and around the other plants, then fade into the background after flowering.

Woodland phlox does best in partial shade and moist, rich, well-drained soil.

As its common name suggests, woodland phlox does best in woodland conditions in partial shade and rich, moist, well-drained soils. But it is very adaptable and will tolerate dry and clay soils, and is even drought tolerant once established. Although partial shade is best, it will tolerate full sun in cooler climates. Mulch lightly to retain moisture and keep the roots cool through the summer. Prune after flowering if desired to tidy the plant’s appearance, but wait until spring to clean up the clump, only removing winter-damaged foliage. This plant has few pest problems, other than powdery mildew. Placing in areas with good air circulation and cutting the stems back after bloom can help reduce powdery mildew. Spider mites can be a problem in hot, dry weather. Deer and rabbits will browse the foliage.

Woodland phlox is propagated by seed, division (detach rooted stems in spring or early fall), basal cuttings taken in spring, or root cuttings taken in early fall. Seeds can be sown in spring or in mid-summer as soon as it is ripe.

Several cultivars are available including:

  • ‘Blue Moon’ – this New England Wildflower Society introduction has deep blue-violet flowers and very full flower petals.
  • ‘Clouds of Perfume’ – a very fragrant type with blue flowers.
  • ‘Chatahoochee’ in a garden (L) and closeup of flower (R).

    ‘Chattahoochee’ – is a cultivar of the subspecies laphamii with lavender flowers that each have a darker center. It received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1993.

  • ‘Fuller’s White’ – has white instead of blue flowers.
  • ‘Louisiana Purple’ – has dark lavender to purple flowers with a maroon eye. It might actually be an interspecific hybrid.
  • ‘May Breeze’ – was selected in the Netherlands by Piet Oudolf for its star-like pale blue flowers.
  • ‘Montrose Tricolor’ – has lavender blue flowers and variegated leaves.

– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison

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Sunday – June 16, 2013

From: Orem, UT
Region: Northwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Identification of flower similar to bluebell in Washington
Answered by: Nan Hampton


Is there somewhere I can submit a picture to see what kind of flower it is? It looks like a bluebell but more star shaped. Found on the side of the road in Oak Harbor, WA


To search for possibilities for your flower I went to the database Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest and searched by color—blue. Below are the possibilities I found. You should try the search yourself to see if there might be ones that I missed that could be the flower that you saw.

Brodiaea coronaria (Crown brodiaea) Here are more photos and information from Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest.

Campanula piperi (Olympic bellflower) Here are more photos and information from Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest.

Campanula scouleri (Bellflower) Here are more photos from CalPhotos-Berkeley.

Dichelostemma capitatum (Bluedicks) Here are more photos and information from Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest.

Dichelostemma congestum (Ookow) Here are photos and more information from Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest.

Gentiana affinis (Pleated gentian) Here are more photos and information from Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest.

Gentiana calycosa (Rainier pleated gentian) Here are more photos and information from Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest.

Gentiana sceptrum (King’s scepter gentian) Here are photos and more information from Washington Native Plant Society.

Gilia sinuata (Shy gilia)

Mertensia ciliata (Mountain bluebells) Here are more photos and information from Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest.

Mertensia longiflora (Small bluebells) Here are photos and more information from Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest.

Mertensia oblongifolia (Oblongleaf bluebells) Here are more photos and information from Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest.

Mertensia paniculata (Tall bluebells) Here are more photos and information from Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest.

Polemonium californicum (Showy Jacob’s ladder)

Polemonium occidentale (Western polemonium) Here are more photos and information from Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest.

Polemonium pulcherrimum (Jacob’s-ladder) Here are more photos and information from Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest.

Veronica cusickii (Cusick’s speedwell) Here are more photos and information from Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest.

If none of these are the flower you saw, please visit our Plant Identification page to find links to several plant identification forums that will accept photos of plants for identification.

From the Image Gallery

Crown brodiaea
Brodiaea coronaria
Olympic bellflower
Campanula piperi
Pale bellflower
Campanula scouleri
Dichelostemma capitatum
Pleated gentian
Gentiana affinis
Rainier pleated gentian
Gentiana calycosa
Tall fringed bluebells
Mertensia ciliata
Oblongleaf bluebells
Mertensia oblongifolia
Tall bluebells
Mertensia paniculata
Western polemonium
Polemonium occidentale
Polemonium pulcherrimum
Cusick’s speedwell
Veronica cusickii

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Plant identification of shrub with thorns and purple flowers
July 05, 2011 – I have a small tree or shrub, it has very small or thin thorns on the branches. It blooms in April / May. The flowers are purple. My mother-in-law said that it has been around for over 100 years, b…
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Shrub with thorns, black fruit and citrus fragrance in Michigan
September 19, 2014 – I’m not sure that my plant is a native, but I’m hoping to find some answer. There is a small patch of roadside shrubs on my property which I’ve been unable to identify. They have simple opposite …
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Identification of yellow fruit with many fingers
December 24, 2012 – This is a yellow lemon smelling fruit with many fingers. Yellow in color. Looks like an octopus.
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What is a Bluebell?

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Bluebells are one of the classic English wildflowers, often claimed to be our nation’s favourite flower. Much-loved as they are, however, the poor plant’s botanical name has been pushed around from pillar to post in Botany.

It has been variously known as Hyacinthoides non-scripta, and as Scilla nutans, or Scilla non-scripta, but the Scilla plants (also known as Squills) evicted it, so it was renamed Endymion non-scriptus, after that handsome Greek youth who was cursed – or blessed – with eternal sleep and eternal non-ageing. One version of his legend claims that he managed to father fifty children whilst still asleep, so maybe it was more of a blessing than a curse… but the handsome Bluebell did not remain Endymion (pronounce Enn-dimmy-on, not Endy-my-on, by the way) for long.

Acknowledging the flower’s close resemblance to a Hyacinth, the botanists finally decided to go back to putting it into the genus Hyacinthoides, which is pronounced High-a-sinth Oy-deez. This seems to have suited it, and it remains in that genus to this day.

The species name seems to have been quite persistent, remaining as non-scripta despite moving from genus to genus: non-scripta is a literal translation from the Latin of “not written”. This name is based on a Greek myth, which says that when Prince Hyacinthus died, flowers sprang up from where his blood touched the ground, and the God Apollo’s tears spelled the word ‘alas’ on the petals of those flowers, which seem to have been Hyacinthus orientalis albulus. As the Bluebell is “unlettered” or “not written on”, it tells us that the Bluebell is a different species from the similar-looking Hyacinth.

Throughout all these confusing name changes, the plant remains the same: a single flowering stem, bearing a cascade of individual flowers, growing from a stout white bulb, with a basal rosette of narrow strappy green leaves, forming carpets of scented blueness in English woodlands in late spring, much loved of poets and watercolour artists.

Why are they called Bluebells?
Because, quite logically, the flower is coloured blue, and each individual flower is shaped like a long, narrow bell. The botanical name, Hyacinthoides, means that they look like Hyacinths: and they do, although instead of a dense, packed head of small flowers, the bluebell hangs them out to dry, one by one, along a delicately arching stem.

What are Bluebells used for?
The classic situation for the English Bluebell is to form a dense carpet in deciduous woodland. The bulbs lie dormant all through the summer and winter, then in early spring the first green shoots start to appear, taking advantage of the warmth of the spring sunlight, visible through the bare branches above. They continue to grow through the end of winter, finally bursting up and into flower in a matter of just a few weeks, usually over the end of April into the beginning of May. Then both the flowers and the leaves fade and die, having stored up enough energy in their plump white bulbs to see them through the long months of shade, when the woodland trees regain their leaves.

A carpet of English bluebells in a Welsh wood, brought on by the warm spring sunlight through the still quite bare branches above.

They are easily damaged by careless trampling, so the best Bluebells woods will have clear paths through them. They are now a protected species, and it is an offence to dig them up from the wild, which is probably a good thing as the bulbs are actually rather poisonous, containing glycosides which are similar to those found in Digitalis or Foxglove. It has also been reported that some people are allergic to the leaves, and that contact with their sap, or the sticky residue around the bulbs, can cause contact dermatitis. So look, but don’t touch! It’s not illegal to pick Bluebells in the wild, but they wilt very quickly, so it is really better to leave them growing, for everyone to admire.

Interestingly, the fat, white bulbs give off a sticky substance that used to be used in fletching arrows, and also in bookbinding: and the poison it contained had the added bonus of helping to protect the books from attack by certain insects.

How do you know it’s a true Bluebell?
There are other plants whose common name is Bluebell, and we’ll come to those in a little while, but when people ask this question, they are normally concerned, quite rightly, about Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica, or sometimes still labelled Scilla hispanica) invading and hybridising with our English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), and wanting to be able to tell the difference.

Why is there a problem? First let us look at the three species of Hyacinthoides.

The Italian bluebell, Hyacinthoides italica which, rather than hanging bells, has star-shaped flowers with six petals.

First we can get Hyacinthoides italica or Italian bluebell out of the way: it originates, as the name suggests, from Italy and also from France, Spain and Portugal, where it finds the hot summers and rocky places to its liking. This is a smaller plant than the other two species, and instead of the familiar “bells”, it has a starry arrangement of six petals, making it look rather more like a Squill (Scilla) than a member of the Hyacinthoides genus. It is a pretty little thing, but not in the same league of popularity as the English and the Spanish bluebells.

The other two species are the problem.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta or English bluebell has the bells arranged all on one side of a gently curving stem: each bell is long and narrow, with parallel sides, and the petals curl outwards and back at the bottom. It is sweetly scented, and has narrow strap-like leaves, and narrow means 7-10mm which is about half an inch. It likes to live in the shade during summer, hence its preference for deciduous woodlands.

The Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica – petals all round the stem, widely flared and without the kiss-curl kick at the end

Hyacinthoides hispanica or Spanish bluebell has a stout, upright stem, with the bells sticking out rather untidily all the way round. Each bell is widely flared, and the petals lack the abrupt curl at the end. The flowers are unscented, and the leaves are much broader, 20-30cms or well over an inch wide. They like pasture – lots of sun, nice and open.

As these two species prefer different habitats, in theory there should never be a problem, but the Spanish bluebell is strong and vigorous, and is able to survive quite nicely, thank you, in woodland, so if it is mistaken for English bluebell, and planted in a native Bluebell wood, it will out-perform the native plant.

Worse, these two species hybridise freely, so after a number of years there will be few of the original English bluebells left, just a mass of hybrids, and as the hybrids are not scented, we will not only lose our native plant – and the biodiversity that goes with it – but we will lose forever the wonderful smell of a Bluebell wood.

Why has this happened? The problem of hybridisation was noticed, and it 1981 became illegal under UK law to buy or sell English bluebell bulbs or seeds that were taken from the wild. As it is very difficult to prove that plants were from legitimate sources, it became simpler for nurseries and garden centres to sell the legally imported Spanish bluebells. This means that now, you can rarely buy proper English bluebells, so everyone is planting the Spanish ones in their gardens, and unfortunately the bees, and other pollinating insects, don’t know the difference, and hybridisation is occurring to such an extent that most of the Bluebells you find in gardens today are either Spanish, or hybrids.

What can you do to help? Learn the difference, then don’t buy Spanish Bluebells. If you want to start a colony of native Bluebells, always buy from a reputable grower, read the labels, and check the width of the leaf… to ensure that they have been correctly labelled. Make sure they are properly rooted in the pot, and always ask the seller where they came from. If you suspect that they might have been imported, or dug up from the wild, then please don’t buy them.

If you find H. hispanica in your garden, and want to get rid of them, dig up as many of the bulbs as you can, then either put them on the bonfire heap, or pack them into black plastic and let them rot down to mush for a year or so, before composting them. Never put them straight onto the compost heap – and never, ever throw them away over the garden fence, or onto grass verges or wasteland.

If you find it impossible to get all the bulbs out (they are often very deep in the soil) don’t use weedkiller, as they seem to be immune to it: just keep pulling all the foliage off as soon as it appears. Eventually they will run out of energy.

How to spot a hybrid Bluebell
Firstly learn to spot the pure Hyacinthoides non-scripta: learn the correct flower shape, the single-sided flowering arrangement, the scent, and the very narrow leaves. Then learn the identification points of the Hyacinthoides hispanica – upright stem, the widely-flared flowers held untidily all round it, the lack of scent, and the wide leaves. Everything that is partway in between these two is the hybrid.

A quick word about colour: both species of Bluebell come in blue, white, and occasionally pink. Just because it is not blue, does not mean it is an invader! Look at the shape of the individual flower, and the way they are arranged on the stem.

So what other Bluebells can we find?
Putting the word Bluebell into the GreenPlantSwap Plant Finder reveals 17 plant records, not all of which are Endymion, Scilla or Hyacinthoides: unsurprisingly, most of the rest are blue-flowered, and many of them are variations on the theme of being bell-shaped.

They’re blue, they’re bells, but they are not Bluebells. Their common name is Bellflower, and this one is Campanula ‘Sarastro’.

The most likely contender for “acceptable use of the common name Bluebell even though it is botanically incorrect” has to be Campanula, a genus which itself has 77 plant records: the popular common name for many of them is Bellflower, which is a highly appropriate name as the flowers are indeed an open church-bell-like shape. One species in particular, Campanula rotundifolia, has the common name of Harebell in England, but in Scotland is known as Bluebell, which frequently causes confusion for borderline botanists. Due to this, it is often known as Scottish Bluebell to differentiate it from our Hyacinthoides.

Sollya heterophylla, also known as Billardiera heterophylla, has the common name Australian bluebell creeper, solely due to the small blue bell-shaped flowers which it bears in open clusters along its twining, climbing stems. Likewise, Polemonium reptans has blue flowers, but has no other likeness to a proper Bluebell.

Phacelia campanularia, on the other hand, not only bears more-or-less bell shaped blue flowers, but has sap which can be a skin irritant, so it shares two traits with our Bluebell. It has the common name of Californian Bluebell, and the species name “campanularia” gives a clue as to the appearance of the plant – it “looks a bit like campanula”.

Our last two are real imposters – they don’t actually look anything like “proper” Bluebells.

Mertensa Virginica or Virginian Bluebell is an upright perennial plant with clusters of dangling lilac-blue flowers, and Wahlenbergia albomarginata – or New Zealand bluebell – looks more like a Scilla than anything else, with long skinny leaves, and starry wide-open flowers of pale blue or white.

And finally…
As mentioned earlier, the sap of the leaves and flower stems can be a skin irritant, and the bulbs are definitely poisonous, which might account for the many folklore tales about Bluebells. For centuries, superstition said that anyone who accidentally wandered into a ring of bluebells would fall under a fairy enchantment, and would then die. It was also said that you should not walk through a patch of Bluebells, as this would make them ring, and ringing the bells would summon fairies – who were generally not the nice, glittery little Disneyfied things that we all know now, but were mean, spiteful, baby-stealers, with wicked tempers.

Not all the Bluebell folklore is quite so grim: there are some tales which say that if you can turn one of the flowers inside out without tearing it, you would eventually win the one that you love, which is a nice idea, if somewhat impractical. Please don’t try this for yourselves, we have already mentioned the skin-irritant properties of the sap. Likewise, it used to be said that wearing a wreath made of the flowers would compel the wearer to speak only the truth – but again, not a good idea to try.

It is far better to just walk safely on the paths and enjoy the sight and scent, without damaging them or yourselves – and if you ever find Bluebells growing in hedgerows, it might even indicate that the hedgerow is part of an ancient woodland.

What are those blue Texas wildflowers that are not bluebonnets? Curious Texas gets to the root of it

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on April 24, 2018. We are bringing it back for the first day of spring.

If you look closely at Texas roadsides during wildflower season, you’ll notice that there are a lot more than bluebonnets. There are pink, red, orange and yellow flowers sprinkled in, plus blue flowers that may look like bluebonnets.

Gail Morris of Cedar Hill recently asked Curious Texas: What are those little blue wildflowers that are out right now? Not the bluebonnets. They are about 1-3 inches tall.

Curious Texas is an ongoing project from The Dallas Morning News that invites you to join in our reporting process. The idea is simple: You have questions, and our journalists are trained to track down answers.

Gail has loved these little blue flowers since she was a little girl, and we asked Daniel Cunningham, horticulturalist with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension, what they could possibly be.

“I grew up in Dallas and when I was a little girl, I loved these little blue wildflowers and would pick them when playing house,” Morris said via email. “When I see them now it always takes me back to my childhood and fun times playing with my best friend. You don’t see them as much now as you used to, so I wanted to find out what they were so that I could possibly get some seed to spread around.”

Cunningham says they could possibly be dayflowers or Texas bluebells. He also came up with three more blue Texas wildflowers that you will see around this time of year.

Grape Hyacinth (Muscari spp.)(Daniel Cunningham / Special Contributor)

Grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.)

These spring bloomers resemble bluebonnets because they produce dense populations with violet blue flower spikes, but they are quite small. Native to southeast Europe, they are non-native wildflowers in Texas, often escaping cottage gardens and popping up near parks and along creeks.

The spikes with small, urn-shaped flowers arise from a small onion-like bulb, but they usually don’t grow taller than 8 inches. Their blooms are quite narrow in comparison to bluebonnets.

Camassia scilloides (Wild hyacinth) (Edith Bettinger, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

Atlantic camas (Camassia scilloides)

Also called wild hyacinth, this native wildflower is indigenous to North Texas and has flower stalks that are pale blue to lavender. Although not as common as bluebonnets, wild hyacinth can be found in numbers around remnants of the Blackland prairie, areas that typically see little foot traffic.

Wild hyacinth has lighter blue flowers with green to yellow centers, which make them stand out from bluebonnets. Their leaves are also quite different, forming grass-like clumps.

Commelina erecta (Dayflower) (Carolyn Fannon, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

Dayflowers (Commelina erecta)

These native wildflowers might trick the eye from afar. Like the name suggests, their ear-like blue petals only last for a short time. One or two light blue flowers will peek above their arching, grass-like foliage, blooming for just a day. Dayflowers also typically don’t form dense clusters like bluebonnets.

Eustoma exaltatum ssp. russellianum (Texas bluebells) (Bruce Leander, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)

Texas bluebells (Eustoma spp.)

This is the wildflower the famous creamery was named after, and although the bloom time doesn’t overlap with our beloved bluebonnets, they are an iconic Texas wildflower whose name most Texans knows. Regrettably, the bluebell’s blue to deep purple tulip-like blooms are not as prolific in Texas as they once were, with declining numbers attributed to fellow Texans who couldn’t resist picking their showy flowers.

Bluebells are often more purple than blue and bloom in late summer to fall.

Mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea)(Daniel Cunningham / Special Contributor)

Mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea)

This blue-spiked native flower may look like a bluebonnet if you’re driving by at 55 mph. Their blue to deep purple (and sometimes even white) blooms are narrow and grow 2 to 3 feet in the air. Although mealy sage begins to bloom just as the bluebonnets begin to fade, these delightful and showy perennial wildflowers will bloom until the first frost, making them a great addition to any home landscape.

Usually much taller than our Texas bluebonnet, mealy blue sage is considered a sub-shrub, developing woody tissue as it matures.

What colour is a bluebell?

A silver, pink and yellow ‘bluebell’

Do you still think the bluebell is just blue?

Vicky and Eloise explain that ‘looking closely at something and with patience helps us to see that there are many nuances in natural colour’.

For them, a bluebell ‘has silvers and pinks and yellows all within its delicate textures, and the blue is something we see simply at first glance’.

Their desire to encourage people to look at colour anew will be reflected in their installation Colour Field at the Wonder Project.

Here’s what they expect will happen: ‘During the eight days, we will collect written descriptions of colour at Wakehurst.

We will ask visitors to reinterpret other’s descriptions, using water-colours to mix and create colours they feel are a match.

Each swatch of colour will be added to a growing field of hues. This new colourfield will be a twice-interpreted representation of the colours found at Wakehurst during the Wonder project.

We’re excited by the emergence of what we are thinking of as a ‘People’s Archive of Colour,’ which will, with absolute truth represent the colour scape, but without direct replication of original colour.’

Paula wonders ‘whether this experience will make people want to return to the beautiful gardens at Wakehurst to look at how they develop throughout the seasons.’

She hopes it will also make people think more deeply about the underlying structure of what they see.

Be part of the People’s Archive of Colour and help to develop a Wakehurst colour palette at the Wonder Project from 26 July.

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