Bluebell Woods
We shall explore one of the Worcester Woods. It is Spring, at the beginning of May. The bluebells bloom from
April to may, but are usually at their best during the last two weeks of April and the first two weeks of May. We
have to be quick - the bluebells flower just as the trees start to put out their sprig leaves and they will whither
and turn to seed soon. They repeat this process every year, growing up from bulbs as which they overwinter.
Hazels (shown above and below) form the shrub layer. The hazel is a small tree, but when coppiced as they are
often here (or grazed when mere saplings) they put out several small stems to form their characteristic tangles,
with characteristic bronzen smooth brown bark with obvious horizontal lenticels and with pliable wood, broad
green leave that are soft and felty to the touch and, of course, hazelnuts which feed the many grey squirrels
here, as well as birds. However, it's too early to find hazelnuts, though the many shells strewn amongst the leaf
litter testify to the many earlier feasts of bird and squirrel. The oak (
Quercus robur) is the dominant tree species
here. Occasional holly bushes add to the shrub layer and occasional ash trees, hornbeams and sycamore and
a few others are to be found. There are quite a few birch trees here, though many are dead, and perhaps they
are giving way to the dominant tree species.
These ancient woodlands make up Worcester woods in the Midlands, England. The bedrock type is Keuper
Marl - fin-grained red/brown sediments deposited by wind and water over 200 million years ago. This is made
up of sediments of clay particles and quartz grains cemented together by red haematite. The soil overlying
these rocks in Worcester consists largely of sediments deposited by the early River Severn. Although we are
two or three miles from the current river bank we are on its flood plain as we stand in these woods - not that it
would ever likely flood this far today, but the River Severn has changed its course over time as it meanders
and writhes like a serpent in slow motion. The River Severn is the longest river in Great Britain at 220 miles
(just over 350 km) long. The head of the river is 610 m above sea level in the Cambrian Mountains at  
Plynlimon in Wales. The river discharges into the Bristol Channel, which discharges into Celtic Sea and
hence into the Atlantic Ocean. Plynlimmon is the higest point in these mountains, and according to legend
three sisters, who were water spirits met here to decide the routes they would take to the ocean. One sister
chose the longest route, visiting many of the fairest places and staying class to the abodes of humanity,
forming the River Severn. The river is named after a mythical character, by the name of \Habren (Hafren) in
Welsh, Severn in English and Sabrina in Latin. This unfortunate young woman was executed by drowning in
the river. However, in other versions of the myth, Sabrina is a  water spirit or goddess, perhaps one of the
three sisters.

Around the time of the last ice age, 10 000 to 20 000 years ago, the early River Severn deposited sands and
gravel here along with red clay. Quartz, sandstone and flint pebbles are abundant and easily found on the
footpaths and reveal smooth surfaces where they were worn by transport in water. This alluvial clay subsoil
overlies the Keuper Marl wich is just over one metre below the surface. Clay, loam and sand form the top soil
which has been greatly modified by biological activity and is rich in organic matter (humus) and is very fertile.
The bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) has a violet tinge to it, and photographs with the old film-based
pocket camaeras never quite capture the true colour with certainty, sometimes turning out violet, other times
blue, depending in part upon the lighting, with bright sunlight bringing out the violet. I really will have to take
some pictures with a modern digital camera and compare. Simply scanning in the photos also changed the
hue. I suspect that different people will see it slightly different in any case. Forming in sheets, these flowers
remind some of lakes of water. To add to the spectacle, the bluebells fill the air with a delicate and distinctive
and very pleasant fresh aroma. The bulbs do not take well to being trampled and will eventually die if trampled
repeatedly, so it best not to work across the sheets of flowers.
Click here to visit another bluebell wood or here to see the same wood later in the year.
bluebell half-flower
bluebell floral diagram
Above: the bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta (formerly Endymion non-scriptus) or wild hyacinth is a
monocotyledon of the lily family (Liliaceae).

                                         The floral formula is: {P(3+3)A 3 + 3} G(

Which indicates that there are two whorls of three petals each, all fused together into a floral tube.
Strictly speaking the outer whorl of petals is derived from the sepals which look petal-like. Since the
sepals are indistinguishable from the petals we can call all six perianth (calyx of sepals + corolla of
petals) appendages
tepals. The formula indicates this by using a generic 'P' for perianth segments.
The 6 stamens are attached to the six petals by their filaments (along more than half the filament
length), one per petal, but the anthers are not directly fused to one-another. The gynaecium, or female
reproductive appendages, consists of three fused carpels and is
superior to ('above') the stamens.
This is indicated by placing the G for gynaecium or the gynaecium number, in the floral formula, above
the underscore. A superior ovary is one that is borne on part of the
receptacle (swollen tip of the
flower stalk / pedicel) above the insertion of the stamens. Such an arrangement in which the gynaecium
is borne on the receptacle apex is hypogyny and we thus have a
hypogynous flower. There are two
bracts, which are linear-lanceolate (meaning they are straight but tapered to a point at the tip). The
lower (anterior) bract is larger that the upper (posterior) bract.

NHM bluebell page
bluebell flower diagram with labels
Above: Hyacinthoides non-scripta in a woodland in Kent.
bluebells 1
bluebells 1
Above: close-up of Hyacinthoides non-scripta (formerly Endymion non-scriptus) in Cromers
wood, Kent, in mid-April. Flowers with a bell-shaped floral tube, such as this, are described as
campanulate. These bluebells shared the wood with considerable numbers of  wood
anemone (
Anemone nemorosa), wild primroses (Primula vulgaris), bugle (Ajuga reptans),
lesser celandine and a few hundred early purple orchids (
Orchis mascula) among others.
bluebells in Kent
These photos are mostly taken in ancient or semi-ancient woodland which is a stronghold for
Hyacinthoides non-scripta in the British Isles. This species has drooping flower heads and
yellow pollen / anthers. However, there is increasing concern for this species as an aggressive
hybrid with the Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica). The Spanish Bluebell has a more
upright inflorescence with broader, more open and falred bell-like flowers and usually has blue
anthers / pollen. Where this southern population meets the northern
, hybrids occur. The hybrids reportedly also usually have blue anthers and so can
be easily distinguished.
bluebell, white variety
Above: the rarer white variety.
bluebell ripened fruit and seeds, Hyacinthoides non-scripta
By mid-June the last of the flowering bluebells are just about finished, though most 'go-over'
by late May. As they do so those fertilised flowers start to set fruit: their ovaries swell into
large green fruit which are visibly three-chambered and larger than a child's marble (up to
about 2cm or roughly an inch in length). As the fruit mature, the stems stiffen and straighten
to upright (despite the considerable weight of the fruit). By mid-July you will see that the fruit
have dried and dehisced, losing their tops to reveal three brown and papery cup-like
chambers containing small round and black seeds. The slightest deflection of the stiffened
9and dead) stems will twang some of the seeds from their cups, flinging them an appreciable
distance from their parent plant. Animals will certainly dislodge and scatter seeds in this way,
and perhaps the rain and wind also. It is really quite an efficient mechanism.
Article updated:
19 July 2015