Sunday, May 07, 2006

Bluebell woods

click photos to enlarge
"Or littering far the fields of May
Lady-smocks a-bleaching lay,
And like a skylit water stood
The bluebells in the azured wood."
from "A Shropshire Lad" by A.E. Housman (1859-1936)

One of the pleasures of spring in Britain is the sight of a "bluebell wood". Here are two examples at Barnacre and Calder Vale, Lancashire. In April and May the wild hyacinth, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, commonly called the bluebell, carpets many deciduous woodlands before the trees' leaf canopy is fully developed. The clustered, fragrant, bell-shaped flowers and the accompanying pointed, glossy leaves are held in high regard by the English in particular, who sometimes name it as the national flower.

The bluebell is also found in hedgerows, with bracken on the uplands, on cliffs, and in gardens. Its popularity has led to cultivation: mauve and white examples can be found in gardens, and sometimes as "escapes". The Latin non-scripta part of the bluebell's name is to distinguish it from the classical hyacinth. In Scotland the July-October flowering harebell, Campanula rotundifolia, is known as the bluebell.

Britain as a whole holds between 25% and 49% of the world population of Hyacinthoides non-scripta, and the plant is identified as one of conservation concern. The 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act protects the wild plants and bulbs of this species. Unfortunately this has not prevented the selfish and unscrupulous from digging them up, offering them for sale, and denying people one of the natural joys of spring.

The photographs above are intended to capture something of the beauty of a bluebell wood - the water-like effect of the densely packed flower-heads, the way the azure colour contrasts with the fresh light green of the trees, and the dappled effect of the sunlight.
photographs & text (c) T. Boughen