June 2015 - Bluebells

Native bluebells - photo with thanks to Dominic Gwilliam-Bell

Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Foxley Wood, is renowned for its ancient woodland, and at this time of year its magnificent bluebells. However, these iconic flowers can be admired in wooded areas not quite so ancient, and strolls through the woods at for example Cringleford or the UEA display them in all their beauty.

Bluebells prefer to grow in light to moderate shade in mixed native woodland. They start to flower mid to late April until the second or third week in May and hundreds, even thousands of plants will be seen flowering together at this time.  The weather is a great influence on this time scale.

Native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are vulnerable as a species, not only from foreign imports such as the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) with which they readily hybridise but from other hybrid varieties (Hyacinthoides x massartiana, both of which are far more vigorous than the native plants. The varieties that are commonly found in our gardens (including ours) are the Spanish or hybrid varieties. Bluebells are also vulnerable from people, trampling on them and/or collecting them, and in addition from Muntjak deer which are very partial to the flavour of the plant leaves, and can destroy whole areas. Habitat destruction must also be included as a factor when considering vulnerability.

Native bluebells can readily be distinguished from Spanish varieties as they have deep purple/blue scented flowers which are tubular, and turn up at the ends. The flowers hang down from arching stems. Occasionally mutations occur and white variants are seen. Spanish bluebells bear largely unscented flowers which are wider and paler in colour, and are placed all round the upright stems; the bells do not turn up at the ends.  Colour mutations may also be seen in the Spanish varieties. In many bluebell woods it is now common to see Spanish varieties interspersing the native bluebells.

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