This amazing photo of a red-tailed queen bumble bee upon bluebells was taken by 13 year old Fairyland Trust crew member Oska Degs in a Sussex wood. To use a higher definition version of the photo contact Oska at instagram @oskadegs or download at Shutterstock
[To make your own Bluebell Chime, watch Sarah Wise’s how-to video at our YouTube Channel].
Looking for fairies? Then try a Bluebell Wood. If you are lucky there may be one near you – or a patch in an old hedgerow or similar. April to May is when most Bluebell Woods are at their best. Due to lockdown under Covid you may not be able to travel far but it’s still worth checking (some links to lists of places below).
One of the many local names for Bluebells is ‘Fairy Flowers’. Others include Bell Bottle, Cuckoo’s Stockings, wood bells, Blue Stockings and Blue Trumpets.
The blue flowers are said to ring to call fairies to their revels at midnight and on the fairy festivals. If flowers are picked it is said that bad luck will follow, although it is trampling which does Bluebells most harm as it squashes the succulent leaves and deprives the bulb and flowers of food. So please do not tread on them (and of course all wildflowers are protected against picking by law).
The very best moment to see Bluebells is probably just after dawn when their violet-blue flowers seem to glow in a colour that defies description but they are stunning at any time of day. Their sweet scent comes in waves, especially as the air warms.
Bluebells are woodland flowers and strongly associated with ancient woods. In the East of England they are more or less restricted to ancient woods such as Foxley Wood in Norfolk, and everywhere they are indicators that there was once a wood where they grow, except where they have been planted (Native British Bluebells have a creamy-white pollen where as the Spanish and hybrid Bluebells have a pale green or blue colour – see Plantlife Guide.).
A Truly British Marvel
Bluebell Woods are a truly British marvel. Despite being quite common here, they are very rare elsewhere in Europe and continental botanists make special trips here to see them. For example, there are a few in western Germany but none in Scandinavia. Nearly half of all Bluebells in the world are found in the UK, where they like our ‘Atlantic’ climate, so we must protect them.
Folklore has it that the Bluebell is the flower of the house goblin, that anyone who wears a Bluebell must tell the truth and that fairies could used Bluebells to lead people astray. So take care.
The green leaves emerge early in the year, well before the leaves of the trees open. This means that the Bluebell does most of its growing with plenty of light and so replenishes the nutrients stored in its bulb.
Bluebell bulbs produce an sticky substance once used to stick feathers to arrows and pages into books. Bluebell bulbs were also crushed to provide starch for the ruffs of Elizabethan collars and sleeves.
Modern threats to Bluebells include trampling, picking, being or trodden on eaten by muntjac deer. They spread only very slowly and it takes at least five years for a seed to grow into a bulb. Climate change is also a threat as in a warmer climate Bluebells may be out-competed by grasses.
As illustrated by Oska’s photo above, Bluebells are important as early food flower for bees, hoverflies and butterflies which feed on nectar. Like other ‘verdant’ spring flowers in Britain they flower before tree leaves fully cut out the light in woods, and get quickly taller by expansion, pumping water into their stems using the stored energy from their bulbs.
Geoffery Grigson, author of An Englishman’s Flora, also points out that many Bluebell names such as Snake’s Flower, Adder’s Flower, Crows Flower, Cuckoo Flower and Granfer Griggles, are shared with the Early Purple Orchid, with which it often grows in old woods. Together these two flowers may have symbolised the potency and fertility of spring for ancient people and have special magical properties that we no longer fully understand.
Buy some for your garden ? we recommend getting ‘plug plants’ from http://www.wildflowers.co.uk/ which you can do by post (check their website as service was interrupted by Covid but you can get some later and plant in the autumn for next year).
Places To Visit
Try these links, organised by County – there are too many for us to list them all here
There are enough Bluebell Woods that there should be one within reach of where you live. (It’s best to visit a proper wood not ‘gardens’ if you want to avoid meetings lots of planted Spanish Bluebells).
We hope you enjoy them. Let us know what you find.