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Bluebell season is almost upon us

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

In praise of bluebells….

And like a skylit water stood

Bluebells in the azure wood

Bluebell season is almost upon us. Read our article on the charms (and darker side) of this native wild flower.

In praise of bluebells…

And like a skylit water stood

Bluebells in the azure wood

A E Houseman

It is early morning in a woodland carpeted with English bluebells. Pure and clear, a blackbird sings. The sun slants through sap-green leaves. A hazy, eye-shadow smudge of blue hovers like a low mist over the earth. The air is filled with the faint breath of hyacinth.

English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are one of the nation’s wonders. The non-scripta (meaning unlettered) part of the name arises from the Greek myth that says when Prince Hyacinthus died, the god Apollo inscribed the words Alas (AI) on the petals of the hyacinth that sprang up from his spilt blood. The bluebell does not have those markings and is thus distinguished from its cousin.

Plantlife tells us that the United Kingdom is home to about half the world’s bluebell population; a Plantlife poll saw bluebells voted Britain’s favourite wildflower. These graceful flowers of the spring were popular with Victorians to whom the flowers symbolised everlasting love. To the poets Emily Bronte, Ann Bronte and A E Houseman the bluebell evoked memories of past innocence and happier days. Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote of the bluebell’s faint honey smell and the way they appeared to wash wet like lakes over the woodland floor.

The English bluebell is distinguished from its Spanish cousin (Hyacinthoides hispanica) by its demure habit of stooping slightly and holding its inflorescence to one side of its stem. The Spanish bluebell is paler blue and more upright with flowers all around the stem. There is also a hybrid bluebell (Hyacinthoides x massartiana) which originated from a cross between the English and Spanish bluebell.

Also known as cuckooflowers and witches’ thimbles, bluebells have surprisingly dark folklore associations. It is said that if you hear bluebells ringing you will die soon after. Another name for them is fairy flowers and it was said that fairies hung their spells on them to dry; if you disturb the flowers, bad luck will ensue. The Elizabethans stiffened their collars and ruffs with starch extracted from crushed bluebell bulbs. In the Bronze Age glue from bluebells was used to attach feathers to arrows.

The Woodland Trust and National Trust both have links to the excellent bluebell woods. If you prefer to stay close to home, take a trip out of Codsall along the road to Brewood – turn left just before Gifford’s Cross and park in the small car park at the top of the lane. From here you can walk down the lane towards Chillington and take the public footpath on the right across. The Avenue where there are bluebells aplenty. Millichope Park on the Corvedale Road is open on 30th April 2pm-6pm entry £6 under the National Gardens Scheme.

The bluebell is the sweetest flower

That waves in summer air

Its blossoms have the mightiest power

To soothe my spirit’s care.

Emily Bronte

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