top of page
  • Writer's pictureHazel Manley

Ten Brilliant Things About Bluebells - or why we should be led by them!

My ten favourite bluebell facts

When I start to plan a painting, I often do some research. With plants, I like to know a bit about their uses, or names etc. I'm always surprised by what turns up and it adds to my pleasure in painting. Here are some of my favourite snippets. I've added links to original articles so if you want to read more, you can.

Cream coloured pollen and slim, narrow, deep blue bells are features of British bluebells
British Bluebell

There are bluebells and bluebells

In the UK, there are three different types of bluebell. British, Spanish (which have been around in the UK for around 300 years) and hybrids. There are subtle differences such as the shape the bells, the colour of the pollen and even the scent.

Spanish bluebells were imported for gardens by plant hunters around 300 years ago.
Spanish Bluebells

England's favourite

I don't remember receiving my ballot paper for this one, but apparently in 2015, England voted the bluebell it's favourite flower. Perhaps this is in part because few flowers are blue (around 10%) and bluebells are very blue even down to where the flowers join the main stem.

Only around 10% of the flowers in the world are blue
Beautiful Blue

Sticky stuff

The sap is sticky and in past was used to glue feathers onto arrows as early as the Bronze Age. The sap was not the only part of the plant used by our ancestors. The bulbs produce a starch that was used to starch Elizabethan neck ruffs, which considering my next snippet seems a bit rash!

Hard to believe such a beautiful flower could be so toxic
Beautiful but toxic

Seriously toxic

Bluebells are full of poisonous glycocides with the potential to kill humans and animals. Apart from dire effects on the digestive system and heart rate, chemicals from bluebells can cause skin irritation so laundresses starching Elizabethan neck ruffs developed hand sores.

This upright spire of bluebells show features of both British and Spanish bluebells
Hybrid Bluebells


The toxicity along with the stickiness were properties useful to bookbinders in past as using bluebell glue to stick the covers on seems to have protected books from hungry insects.

I use bits of photos and an app called colour picker to help me explore a subject
A peek at my sketchbook/scrapbook

Potential pesticide

An article by the BBC gives several potential positive uses for some of the powerful compounds found in bluebells. They contain, among other things, a powerful chemical useful to agriculture because it has the potential to be a natural insecticide.

A colour sketch focuses my mind and helps me to note hints of unexpected colours
Colour Sketch

Drug development

In addition to the agricultural potential, researchers are also looking at ways the chemicals in bluebells could be developed into drugs for patients with cancer or HIV. I love the way a plant can have both the capacity to end and to preserve life. It often seems that the very same compounds that are toxic are of interest to those pursuing new drugs for deadly diseases.

It may be that at some future point, we see bluebell farms with fields of blue flowers in spring which is a rather attractive proposition.

Becasue I can't visualise , it helps to make rough sketches of layouts
Layout Sketch


There are plenty of myths connected with bluebells. Mostly, I'm not that into ancient myths, but one caught my eye. It used to be said that if a child went into a bluebell wood alone and picked bluebells, they wouldn't return. Perhaps this was to deter children from wandering about on their own in the woods or decimating the bluebells. Obviously, neither I nor my friends had heard this, as I can remember children of the 70s carrying armfuls of bluebells during the flowering season, which might be why they needed to be protected by law in 1981! Now if you want to pick bluebells, you must first grow them and there are some specialist suppliers of bulbs or plants that have been grown in nurseries rather than illegally dug up.

I like to cut and stick elements from my photos and add some colour to get an idea of what it could look like
Playing With Colours

Deeper and deeper

I think this was one of the coolest things I discovered about bluebells: their roots contract to drag the bulbs deeper into the soil by 3-5 inches. A plant that can plant itself is so clever!

Constancy, Humility and Gratitude

Not long before starting to research bluebells, I'd been skimming the news and feeling rather sore about the apparent lack of integrity in leaders across the globe. Men (because mostly nations seem to be led by men) who say one thing and do another, or say things you know aren't true, or accept flattery and large financial gifts showing no understanding of poverty and rather too much greed, or who have completely failed to protect the poor or vulnerable, or reward those who have worked so hard to do's a long list.

Clicking through the Internet, I came across a piece about the meaning of bluebells in the language of flowers. Bluebells are supposed to represent constancy, humility and gratitude. It seems to me that these are three qualities which would be good in leaders. Some articles add everlasting love; leaders who love those they lead wouldn't be a bad idea either.

Who would you give a posy of bluebells to?


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page