Everything You Need to Know About Bluebell Flower Meaning, Symbolism, History, Cultural Significance, and How to Grow at Home
Not to be mistaken with unrelated flowers of the same common name, bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are a truly enchanting perennial flower. These delicate blossoms can commonly be found carpeting forest floors, sprouting from containers, and charming home gardens across Europe and North America. Here we’ll take you through everything you need to know about bluebell flower meaning, symbolism, and magical legends in addition to their history and origins and how to grow and care for bluebells at home.
- About Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)
- Bluebell Flower Meaning & Symbolism
- How to Grow Bluebell Flowers at Home
- Suitable Gifting Occasions for Bluebell Flowers
About Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)
Hyacinthoides non-scripta gets its name common name “bluebells” from the appearance of its flowers. Growing from a bulb, the bluebell plant sprouts several linear leaves from the ground and a central spire (about 20 inches in height).
The central stem droops to one side and produces a sweetly fragrant inflorescence with several hanging blossoms (most commonly 5 to 12, but sometimes 3 to 32 blooms). Ranging in colors from light violet to deep indigo, pink, and white, the blossoms are tubular with six strongly curved tepals that give the blossoms a classic bell-like shape – hence the name bluebells.
Bluebells bloom from April through late May and an unmistakable sign of spring.
The bluebell, common bluebell, English bluebell, or wild hyacinth is scientifically classified as a member of the Hyacinthoides genus in the sub-family Scilloideae under the Asparagaceae family. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus first described the Hyacinthoides non-scripta in his work, Species Plantarum which was published in 1753. He designated it “non-scripta” which means unlettered or unrecorded to distinguish it from the classical hyacinth.
The common bluebell has held many botanical names throughout the years. In 1797, an English botanist argued that nutans (nodding) was more suitable than non-scripta. Thus the name Hyacinthoides nutans was born. In 1803, a pair of German botanists transferred the common bluebell to the Scilla genus (Scilla non-scripta), and in 1849, another German botanist switched the bluebell’s genus to Endymion (Endymion non-scripta).
However, international standards for botanical names require the use of the oldest nomenclature. As a result, the common bluebell is still scientifically and botanically referred to as the Hyacinthoides non-scripta, even though the plant has long been noted in botanical records.
The common bluebell is native to Atlantic Europe, growing in North-Western Portugal and Spain, the British Isles, and the Netherlands. It’s found all over parts of Western Europe include all of Great Britain, Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany, Romania, and Italy. The plant has also invaded parts of North America where it now grows wild. Bluebells grow most abundantly in the British Isles where they create “bluebell woods” by blanketing forest floors in frothy indigo.
Are Bluebells Toxic?
All parts of the bluebell plant contain glycosides that are toxic to humans and animals. Most animals are put off by the plants, but accidental ingestion is still possible. This can cause serious stomach upset. If a large quantity is eaten, it can be fatal.
Bluebells attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators with their sweet nectar, which make them a wonderful addition to just about any garden, wild-growing area, or container garden.
Uses & Benefits of Bluebell Flowers
Although generally considered toxic, bluebells do produce several bioactive agents. Some of these are similar to chemicals being tested in fighting cancer and HIV.
Historically, bluebell bulbs have been used in folk medicine to correct hormonal imbalances and even as a diuretic and styptic. However, due to the plant’s toxicity, we don’t recommend attempting any of these remedies on your own. Bluebells secrete an exceptionally sticky sap that was used as an adhesive for bookbinding and arrow-making.
Today, the most popular use for bluebells is blanketing a garden in blue.
Bluebell Flower Meaning & Symbolism
Symbolic Meaning of Blubell Flower Colors
Bluebell flowers range in color from white to gray to pale blue, lilac, and pink to a deep cobalt. In general, bluebell flowers are understood to symbolize gratitude, humility, everlasting love, and constancy.
More specifically lilac or purple bluebells represent gratitude, white bluebells symbolize purity and spirituality, blue-colored bluebells represent humility and constancy, and pink is the perfect choice for conveying feelings of everlasting love.
Bluebells & Fairies
Having grown for centuries in the land of fairies and goblins, bluebells (also called fairy flowers) are steeped in mythology. Many tales weave dark fairy magic with bluebell woods, legends, curses, and bad luck.
Some believe that fairies use bluebells to enchant and trap humans. If you pick a bluebell, the fairies might lead you astray and you will become lost forever. If you hear a bluebell ring, it’s been said that a bad fairy will visit and you or someone close to you will perish soon after. (Thank goodness bluebells aren’t actually bells!)
Bluebells & Witches
In Scotland, bluebells are referred to as harebells because it was believed that witches would transform themselves into hares and then hide in fields of bluebells.
Bluebells in Art & Literature
In addition to their place in folklore and legends, bluebells also hold a spotlight in the popular art and literature of Britain. For example, in her poem “The Bluebell,” Emily Bronte describes the beauty of a bluebell wood, the absence of the flowers’ color in the winter, and how their appearance in spring makes her feel homesick.
The beauty of bluebells has likewise inspired many English artists to capture their allure on canvas. In several paintings, the artist Jack Wiggins has forever preserved the charm of sunlight-dappled bluebell meadows that make admirers of his art long for the warmth of spring.
Bluebells in Victorian Flower Language
In the language of flowers and traditional flower symbolism, bluebells represent much more virtuous ideals such as humility, gratitude, constancy, and everlasting love. These humble meanings are likely attributed to the look of bluebell blossoms, which seem to bow before onlookers.
What Do Bluebell Tattoos Symbolize?
In tattoo art, bluebells are usually chosen as a symbol of gratitude or everlasting love. This is especially true when the flower is inked along with someone’s name.
How to Grow Bluebell Flowers at Home
The Best Bluebell Flower Growing Zones
USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 9
Where to Plant Bluebells
Bluebells are suitable for borders, beds, butterfly or bumblebee gardens, containers, cottage gardens, wildflower meadows, shade gardens, and at the base of deciduous trees.
Once established, bluebells spread quite easily on their own, so it’s not recommended to plant them where they can spread unrestrained and take over (unless that’s what you want them to do).
Best Bluebell Flower Varieties to Plant at Home
- Common Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) – Blooms droop to one side.
- Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) – Blooms fall in all directions.
Many more plants, such as Virginia bluebells, are commonly called bluebells. However, they’re unrelated to the common bluebell and are species of the Clematis, Campanula, Polemonium, and Eustoma genera.
When to Plant
Sew these perennial bulbs in late summer for a beautiful bloom the following spring and every spring after that.
Common Bluebell Flower Care
Common bluebells grow wild, require little care, and are a low-maintenance choice for an informal garden that you can enjoy year after year.
Bluebells can grow in all well-draining soil types ranging from slightly alkaline to slightly acidic pH levels.
Bluebells prefer partial shade, making them ideal for growing beneath leafy trees.
Bluebells should be kept slightly moist but never soggy. Water when the top few inches of soil are dry and allow them to drain.
Before new shoots emerge in spring, apply a basic, well-balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer to the soil.
Suitable Gifting Occasions for Bluebell Flowers
Since bluebells are considered to be wildflowers, they aren’t often the “star of the show” in most bouquets. Instead, their pretty blooms are incorporated to add texture, surprising pops of color, and a bit of delicateness to mixed floral arrangements and seasonal springtime designs. Bouquets featuring bluebells have a rustic, whimsical appeal and look beautiful wrapped in twine or tied with a satin ribbon.
Bluebells are often one of the first flowers to bloom abundantly in springtime, making them the perfect choice of flowers for celebrating just about any spring occasion: birthdays, anniversaries, Easter, Mother’s Day, and just because. If you have them growing in your yard and you’re not afraid of fairies, pick a bunch, tie them with a ribbon, and give them to a friend to lift their spirits with the fresh fragrance of spring renewal and rebirth.
When gifting bluebells, you can also use them to convey a floral message with the language of flowers. Deliver a bouquet of pink bluebells to show your everlasting love or give them to a close friend to show how much you appreciate their presence in your life.
Bluebells are also one of the birth month flowers for April. So, in addition to daisies and sweet peas, a bouquet of bluebells is a wonderful way to celebrate a baby’s birth in April or your best friend’s April birthday.
Carpet Your Garden in Blue!
These magical, delicate blooms of blue have enchanted forest wanderers, botanists, and home gardeners for centuries. Now that you know how to cultivate a garden of bluebells at home, you can appreciate their beauty each spring while chasing the fairies away.
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