Curious Questions: How do you tell the difference between a British bluebell and a Spanish bluebell?

Martin Fone digs into the beautiful bluebell, one of the great spring attractions.

The appearance of densely packed bluebells, forming a bright bright blue carpet under the canopy of a freshly leafed forest, heads nodding in the wind, is one of the most anticipated sights in the British countryside, a sure sign that spring has arrived. and this summer is on its way.

Regularly recognized as Britain’s favorite flower plant, Anne Brontë echoed the feelings of many, writing: “There is a silent eloquence in every wildbell that fills my softened heart with a bliss that words can never convey.”Bell, 1839). A quintessentially British spectacle, with almost half of the world’s bluebell population living on these shores. They usually bloom from about mid-April to the end of May.

Looking at a clearing filled with thousands of individual plants, it’s hard to believe that bluebell is classified as an endangered species, one of the few native British flowers to be protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Their security has been strengthened. in 1998 when the trade in bulbs and seeds was criminalized with fines of up to £5,000 per bulb.

Bluebells in Norfolk.

It can take five to seven years for a seed to grow into a bulb and then bloom. Flowering in places where the soil is unlikely to be disturbed, such as along shady hedgerows, in cemeteries and especially in woodlands, they are perennial and after flowering their long leaves remain above the ground until late autumn. The bellflower then disappears, allowing its bulb to recharge in preparation for the next spring. Their presence is an indication that the woodland is ancient.

Apart from loss of natural habitat, the bluebell’s biggest existential threat comes from its invasive rival, the Spanish bluebell, introduced by the Victorians in the mid-19th centuries, as they were easier to grow. They are relatively easy to distinguish.

native bell,Hyacinthoids (not listed), has thin tubular bells of rich purplish blue, sometimes pink or white, with a deeper central band on each petal. It has a long thin stem or petiole, gradually tapering towards the tip, which holds up to eight flowers on one side only, making it gracefully balanced like a shepherd’s crook. The petals twist in the opposite direction, creating a graceful effect. Its pollen is cream colored.

Native English bells.

Spanish bellHyacinthoides spanisch), taller, with broader leaves and produces significantly more flowers that appear on either side of the petiole, giving it a more upright appearance. The pale blue flowers are shaped like an open bell, while the petals, with a deeper blue center stripe, have a softer curl. Its pollen is blue or pale green.

Spanish bells.

The common bluebell appears widely in folklore. For the Victorians, passionate about floriography, the bell symbolized constancy, humility and eternal love. The truth will always be told if you wear a wreath of bluebells, and by turning the flower inside out, you can win the heart of true love. According to Encyclopedia of folklore and occult sciences (1852) luck was guaranteed if you plucked the bell by singing “bell, bell, bring me good luck until tomorrow night” and inserting it into your shoe.

The bulbs are full of viscous juice and are poisonous when fresh, at least to humans and most animals, with the curious exception of badgers. Their use in large quantities can lead to death. Some folk traditions played on the hostile properties of the flower.

Bells are said to have been used in witches’ potions. Nightmares could be relieved by placing bells under the pillow or hung over the bed. Since faeries were said to hang their spells on petals to dry, touching them unintentionally could release their magic, or at least incur their wrath. The walk among the bluebells was so charming that one could lose all sense of direction and get stuck in the woods.

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Children who plucked the bell were likely to be taken away and never seen again, and many believed that picking flowers and bringing them into the house was a harbinger of misfortune. Bells were used by the fairies to call meetings, but hearing one ring was especially unfortunate; it foreshadowed your own death. No wonder they were known as the Bells of the Dead.

They were also known colloquially as Woodbell, Wild or Wood Hyacinth, Cuckoo Boots, Witch’s Thimbles, Lady’s Nightcap, Culverkis, Fairy Flower, and Hyacinth. Ironically, as Margaret Baker pointed out in plant folklore (2013), “bellflower is the Scottish name for bluebell and bluebell is the Shakespearean name for wild hyacinth and bluebell.”

Sunlight shone through the forest canopy onto the bluebells growing in abundance on the forest floor below. Is there a more beautiful sight in nature?

Herbalists valued bluebells for their diuretic and hemostatic properties, using them to treat spider bites and, according to Tennyson, snake bites, as well as to treat leprosy and tuberculosis. Although scientists have determined that bluebells contain at least fifteen biologically active compounds used to repel insects and pests, modern medicine has rather turned away from their healing properties.

Tudor botanist William Turner New Herbal (1568) suggested that bluebell bulbs were used for other purposes; “The boys of Northumberland,” he wrote, “scrape the root of the grass, and glisten on their arrows and bokeh with the slime with which they scrape.” John Gerrard also mentioned this practice in his Herbal (1597) in describing “hare-hares or English jacinth … which grow bare or bare stems, laden with many hollow inflorescences of strong sweet smell, filling the head.” In his description of the bulb, it was noted that it was “filled with a slimy, shiny juice, which will serve to put feathers on arrows instead of shining, or to glue books together; from which the best starch is obtained after the starch from robin roots.

Jeffrey Grigson Herbal collection of all kinds (1959) took an empirical approach to elucidate the effectiveness of bluebell glue. In April 1945, upon discovering that the covers of the notebook in which he had transcribed the passage from Turner were falling off, he “pasted paper on each end with scrapings from the bell bulb; and then wrote inside the cover “REPAIR WITH BLUEBELL GLUE: APRIL 1945”. Thirteen years later, after “long use” of the notepad, his “two paper loops were as strong and fast as ever”.

“Of course,” he concluded, “the bulb accumulates starch; and starch sticks. Such is the confusion with nomenclature, however, that, as Eternal Magpie points out in a post written on her blog after extensive archival research, it is far from clear whether Turner and Gerard were talking about bluebell or English hyacinth. However, Grigson’s experiment suggests that bells may well have been used.

That glue made from bluebells was used to bind books and attach feathers to arrows is now an established “fact” on the internet. Secondary sources also suggest that bulb-derived starch was used in the 16th century to stiffen collars, and by the Victorians to starch collars.

The next time I see a row of bluebells, I will remember that these beautiful flowers also played a small role in spreading knowledge and maintaining the military strength of the country, perhaps another reason why they are so closely associated with St. George.

A country mouse wanders among bluebells.

A remote part of Exmoor is in full bloom for the first time in centuries.

Bluebells are one of the most welcome annual visitors, writes Toby Keel, celebrating these joyful spring flowers.

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