Bluebell facts and folklore

Bluebell flower head

The UK is home to around half of the world’s bluebell population.

Facts

The English bluebell is an ancient woodland indicator species; it’s usually found in areas that have been continuously wooded for over 400 years.

Our native species is currently under threat from the introduced Spanish bluebell. You can tell them apart as the Spanish form stands upright with flowers all around the stem. The native bluebell has a much more drooping form with flowers only on one side of the stem.

The distinctive scent of the bluebell attracts bees into shaded woodland they might otherwise avoid.

Bee approaching bluebell at Badbury Clump, Wiltshire
 Bee approaching bluebell at Badbury Clump, Wiltshire
Bee approaching bluebell at Badbury Clump, Wiltshire

The whole plant, including the underground bulb, is poisonous and the sap from the bulb causes skin irritation. 

Scientists are researching how the toxic chemicals in bluebells could one day help treat cancer.

In the past

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I their big ruff collars were stiffened using starch made from crushed bluebell bulbs.

Detail from the portrait of Sir Francis Drake
Detail of the portrait of Sir Francis Drake commissioned by Drake himself
Detail from the portrait of Sir Francis Drake

During the Bronze Age the sticky sap was used to attach feathers to arrows.

The gummy sap was also used as glue for bookbinding. Being highly toxic it stopped certain insects from attacking the binding.

Thirteenth-century monks used bluebells to treat snakebites and lepers; although possibly not with much success.

In the language of flowers the bluebell symbolises constancy, humility and gratitude.

Poet Alfred Lord Tennyson described bluebells as ‘like the blue sky breaking up through the earth’.

Blubells have delicate petals
Close up of a bluebell at Ashridge, Herts
Blubells have delicate petals

Folklore

If you pick a wild bluebell, many believe you will be led astray by fairies, and lost forever.

If you wear a garland of bluebells, you will be compelled to tell the truth.

Bluebell woods are enchanted. Fairies use bluebells to lure people in their nether world and trap them.

When a bluebell’s bell rings, it calls all the fairies to a gathering, but if a human hears the bell, they will be visited by a malicious fairy and die soon after.

If you can turn one of the flowers inside out without tearing it, you will eventually win the one you love. Although your time might be better spent with the one you love rather than testing this out.

Flower fairy
Flower fairy
Flower fairy