Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Wednesday wildflower: bluebell

Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta,
in woods at Wokingham, England
The English bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, is a familar and much-loved spring flower.  In woods throughout Britain it comes up and flowers as part of a cycle of spring flowers on the forest floor, along with lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) and greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea).  Each of them blooms for about a week, and then the leaves appear on the trees and the understory becomes dark and shady.
In Britain and in gardens here too, Hyacinthoides non-scripta has often hybridised with the Spanish bluebell, H. hispanica, which has larger flowers and appears to be a more vigorous plant.  The hybrids have wider leaves, more flowers on a stalk, and pedicels longer than the flowers.
Drifts of bluebells in spring can take your breath away.  A few weeks ago when I wrote that groundsel was probably the first weed I learned the name of, I certainly wasn't thinking of bluebell as a weed.  My first plant memory is of bluebells in the woods near Stafford Castle.  We'd gone for a family walk (I was probably 4 because we moved away from Stafford before I was 5, but it's possible I was 3).  I remember there was a tree house, and great drifts of bluebells under the trees.  There's a scene in the movie Ryan's Daughter, which reminded me of that sight (bluebells at 22 seconds into the trailer at the link).
Bluebells and greater stitchwort, Wokingham
Bluebells, Hyacinthoides hispanica or H. xmassartiana, Wellington Botanic Garden
Bluebells are grown commonly enough in New Zealand gardens. Occasionally they can be found in the wild, perhaps establishing from bulbs discarded with garden waste by people who dump their garden rubbish at the roadside instead of at the tip (or better, composting it).  I'm always pleased to see them (bluebells, that is), and regard them as a wildflower rather than a weed.  I've seen quite a few patches this week.
Wild bluebells, Hyacinthoides xmassartiana, Norway St steps, Kelburn, Wellington.
This flowers below are from a roadside clump in Highbury, Wellington, in a roadside weedy patch that has provided subjects for other entries in this blog.  The flowers are pale and arranged on all sides of the stalk, features on H. hispanica, but they have white pollen, a feature of H. non-scripta.  Almost certainly they are derived from hybrids, and should therefore be called H. xmassartiana.
Bluebells, Hyacinthoides xmassartiana, Highbury, Wellington.
In Scotland, Scandinavia, and Australasia the name bluebell is also given to harebells, or members of the Campanulaceae, such as Campanula rotundifolia (blåklocka in Sweden) and Wahlenbergia.

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