Beautiful bluebells at Blickling

A bluebell close up

Nearly 50% of the world’s English bluebells can be found in the UK. Globally the species is threatened and as an iconic part of our country’s woodlands in spring, it’s no wonder this wild beauty has captured our imaginations and our hearts. According to folklore, the bluebell is the flower of the house goblin and anyone who wears a bluebell is compelled to tell the truth! So here are a few truths about the great British blue.

Rolling out the blue carpet

The bluebell is a member of the lily family and has a clever way of surviving under the dense shade of woodland.  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.  The flowering bit is really the end of the cycle and the leaves die away until the following year.  

At Blickling we carefully manage our woodland through coppicing and clearance of brambles during the winter months to make sure as much light as possible reaches the understory.  This makes the crescendo of blue even more spectacular.

A sign of ancient woodland sites

Because bluebells spread very slowly they're considered to be an indicator of ancient woodland sites. Even if the trees aren't very old or even if there are no trees there at all, the fact there are bluebells around can indicate that there has been a wood on a site for a very long time, or perhaps some time in the past.

The Great Wood has existed since before mediaeval times and it's possible that there has been woodland here since trees started to grow after the Ice Age.  Although there is a large area of bluebells in the Great Wood, there are areas without any bluebells.  This is probably because wild deer graze the woodland, seeking out nectar-rich plants like bluebells and other wildflowers.  Keeping this complex ecosystem in balance is an important part of our nature conservation work.

Spot the difference

Sadly, the English bluebell is threatened on a global scale. Habitat destruction, collection from the wild and competition from the Spanish bluebell all pose major threats to the species. A true English bluebell has violet-blue bells on one side of the stem only and holds the sweet scent of British springtime, unlike its Spanish counterpart which is not scented and takes a more upright form. Understanding the difference between them has allowed us to conserve our rarer native English bluebell.  See if you can spot the difference on your next walk at Blickling, without picking them of course!

Our top bluebell spots