Everything you need to know about the beautiful bluebell

Native bluebell woodlands are one of Britain's most iconic countryside images.

Believed to have originated in ancient woodlands of Europe, bluebells hold a special place in our cultural heritage.

Join me on a stroll through a bluebell wood, and I’ll tell you all about these fabulous flowers that have captivated the hearts of people around the world for centuries and how to preserve them for future generations...

Bluebell history

The bluebell’s Latin name, Hyacinthoides non-scripta originates from a Greek myth: as Prince Hyacinthus died, a hyacinth flower sprang from his blood. When the tears of the god Apollo fell on the petals they spelled the word `alas’. Non-scripta means unlettered and distinguishes the bluebell from the hyacinth.

Bluebells have been known by many other names including harebell, wood hyacinth, crowtoes, witches’ thimbles, Ring o’ Bells, fairy flower and cuckoo’s boots and lady’s nightcap.

In the language of flowers (a popular Victorian hobby), bluebells mean humility, constancy, gratitude, and everlasting love.

Bluebell magic

In Britain bluebells have a rich history steeped in folklore and are strongly associated with magic in many cultures. Witches were believed to use them in potions, while fairies rang them to summon meetings and hung their spells on the petals to dry. It was said that walking through a carpet of bluebells could release their magic, resulting in the walker losing their sense of direction and being trapped in the woods. And some thought that hearing a bluebell’s ring resulted in the worst of luck of all - hence one of their names - Dead Men’s Bells.

But picking bluebells has also been associated with good luck. Good fortune was said to be granted by chanting a rhyme then putting a bluebell in your shoe overnight; and nightmares could be avoided by placing bluebells under your pillow.

Bluebell protection

Around half the world's bluebells are found in the UK, which is known as the Flower of St George because it is usually in full bloom around St George’s Day, 28 April.

There are several types of bluebell, three of which are most common in the UK: the native or common British bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) found in forests & woodlands; the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), which tend to be found in parks & gardens; and a fast growing hybrid of the two (Hyacinthoides x massartian) – first recorded in the wild in 1963. 

The common bluebell is one of the few native British flowers to be protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. It’s against the law to intentionally pick, uproot or destroy bluebells, and the trade in bulbs and seeds carries fines of up to £5,000 per bulb.

A more sustainable way to enjoy the delicate scent of bluebells is with a scented candle or reed diffuser which can be enjoyed long after the last bluebell has faded.

Bluebell Culture

Bluebells have long been the inspiration for poets, writers and artists.

Cicely Mary Barker’s The Bluebell Fairy appears in the Spring Flower Fairies collection and claims "The Primrose is the Queen, ’tis true. But surely I am King! Ah yes, The peerless Woodland King!"

Sisters Emily and Anne Bronte both penned poems entitled The Bluebell. And Oscar Wilde celebrates how `The harebell spreads her azure pavilion,’ in his poem The Garden of Eros.

Enid Blyton’s 1953 The Bluebell Story Book included short stories including Bluebell Time, Beware of the Bull! and Jimmy and the Jackdaw.

The Bluebell Girls were a legendary Parisian cabaret troupe established in the 1930’s by Margaret Kelly, known as Miss Bluebell due to her strikingly blue eyes. She trained more than 14,000 dancers – known for wearing feathered headdresses, jewelled G-strings, and little else - over a career of more than 60 years.

The Bluebells of Scotland is the name of both a traditional Scottish folk song and a country dance which includes the instructions `Advance for 2, give RH to partner and Lady turns under Men's arm, Lady dances back to place as Man retires, repeat.’

And the Scottish indie ‘80’s band The Bluebells had a No 1 hit after they had split up. Their single Young at Heart was used in a TV advert for Volkswagen and got to No 1 on its re-release.

Call me Bluebell

As a child’s name Bluebell was the 1,774th most popular name in 2024 according to babycentre.co.uk, a considerable drop in popularity from 2001 when it was 127th most popular.

A Mumsnet thread, in response to a member asking whether she should call her daughter Bluebell resulted in the reply “I would snigger if I heard you calling her in Waitrose.”

Spice Girl Geri Halliwell named her daughter Bluebell in tribute to her grandmother who had been a Bluebell Girl (see Bluebell Culture).

Bluebell was a popular name for cows before they were identified by numbers and Ireland’s reputedly oldest cow was called Bluebell 

And Bluebell was the name of one of the rabbits in Watership Down (but don’t worry, he escaped to safety).

Bluebell scent

Penhaligans Bluebell eau de toilette was reportedly one of Princess Diana’s favourite scents - it's available still at a cost of £135 for a 100ml bottle.

Bluebells in the past

Bluebell bulbs produce abundant mucilage – a sticky sap which was used to stiffen Elizabethan ruffs, as a bookbinder’s gum when attaching the covers on books and for fixing feathers onto the shafts of arrows.

Although bluebell bulbs are poisonous they were once believed to cure snake bites. 

Bluebells in the present

Researchers are exploring the bluebell’s highly effective animal and insect repellent properties, and in HIV and cancer research.

How to help preserve ancient bluebell colonies

Bluebells take up to seven years to establish from seed to flower, and can take years to recover after being damaged. When a bluebell’s leaves are crushed the entire plant dies, so it’s important to enjoy them only from an established path.