After hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of photographs, I still don’t feel like I’ve shot anything that truly captures the magic of a bluebell wood. I suppose it’s one of those experiences that isn’t just about what you see, but it’s about the smell and feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin and hearing the buzz of the pollinators visiting the flowers. I spent a while last weekend sitting by the haze of lilac watching them nod in the warm breeze and looking at the things that came to them for nectar- from big bumblebees whose fluffy faces were completely covered in cream pollen to the tiny striped hoverflies that disappeared entirely into the bell-shaped petals.
I’d encourage anyone visiting a bluebell wood to not only marvel at the sight of thousands of them carpeting the woodland floor, but to spend some time with them at ground level, where it feels like you’ve been immersed into a painting (without trampling them, obviously- you can do it from the path!). The scent from the flowers is stronger, the delicacy of the petals is clearer, the light becomes more dappled, and the romance of it just envelops you until you reluctantly get back up.
As an aside, something I get asked quite often is how to tell our native bluebells (pictured here) from the Spanish bluebell, which was originally introduced into gardens but, as so often happens with these things, it escaped and established feral populations. The problem is that the two species can produce fertile hybrids; and, as neither Spanish bluebells nor their hybrids generally have a scent, we’re in danger of losing one of the most spellbinding smells of spring.
Native bluebells have deeper, more ‘closed’ flower with petals that curl back at the tip. They have cream anthers (as opposed to the Spanish bluebell’s pale-blue anthers) and flowers that concentrate on one side of the stem, giving them their distinctive drooping look. Spanish bluebells, on the other hand, tend to look more orchid-like, with flowers on all sides of the flower-spike. There’s a really good guide (with pictures!) here, though it’s also worth bearing in mind that hybrids can be really difficult to ID. As a hard-and-fast rule- if there’s a scent, its most likely one of our native ones 🌱