Midland bluebells in bloom
Despite the worst that ‘the beast from the east’ could throw at us, signs of spring are, well, springing up everywhere, particularly in woodlands where the narrow green leaves of bluebells are bursting though the ground. By late April / early May the distinctive blue ‘bells’ will be flowering en masse, to provide one of the natural world’s finest spectacles.
A British speciality
Bluebells - Hyacinthoides non-scripta to give their scientific name - are a British speciality. The plant is confined to the mild, moist fringes of western Europe and nowhere else in the world does it flower so profusely as in the British Isles. Those carpets of dazzling blue are a sight enjoyed by few others and loved by those who do.
A bluebell Armada
Another bluebell species, the Spanish bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica is widely planted in gardens and has ‘escaped’ to become established in the wild in many places. It is a stouter, more upright species than our native bluebell, with which it does hybridise so should not be encouraged to naturalise outside gardens.
Favoured bluebells conditions
Although bluebells are usually thought of as a woodland plant, and they tend to be at its most abundant in ancient woodlands of broadleaved trees, they do grow in more open situations such as along hedgerows and also on some bracken-covered slopes. The bluebells flower before the bracken fronds really get going in the spring, but when they have finished flowering the bracken ‘canopy’ grows up and provides a humid environment for the bulbs rather like with in a woodland.
Some of the best displays of bluebells at National Trust places in the Midlands can be seen on the Clent Hills, where we cut the bracken in late summer to prevent its ‘litter’ (dead fronds of the fern) becoming too dense and suppressing the bluebells.
But it’s our woodlands which attract most visitors to experience bluebells at their best. Even small woods such as Timms Grove at Coughton Court and Blackwells Wood at Upton House have fine displays and it’s a rare wood which has no bluebells, but the best spectacles can be seen in extensive woods such as those on Wenlock Edge or on the Brockhampton estate.