The ‘bluebells of happiness’ are upon us. The bluebells are traditionally at their best over the first May Bank Holiday which is usually a little earlier but as the tree canopies have been later coming into leaf this year, it has delayed their flowering for a week or two. They are a canny lot and wait for a certain amount of canopy coverage so they have both light and shade.
Last year they were in flower at end of April and in 2010 it was the end of May before they bloomed. No calendar pinned up on the forest wall for them!
Bluebells are often found in Beech Woods and they have sharp leaf tips to allow them to push through the tough beech leaf carpet on the woodland floor. Sometimes you will actually see a beech leaf speared on the bluebell’s leaf.”
Their presence in ancient woodland sites also indicates that the original bluebells in that woodland could well be over 400 years old. They also take a long time to spread by seed – it takes at least 5 years for a bluebell seed to develop into a bulb to produce flowers – so they spread less than a metre in a year. So when you see the really impressive huge blue drifts you can imagine how long they have taken to establish. Bluebells are often seen amongst bracken too, as on Skomer island, as bracken provides a false canopy.
As tempting as it might be it is illegal to take plants from the wild and if your do want to have bluebells in your own garden it’s important that you buy the native species from a specialist nursery. Many of the Garden Centres sell the Spanish Bluebell, which is incredibly invasive and is threatening our Native species. The Spanish flower is much bigger than the Native one and is also available in white and even pink whereas the Native is only blue. The anthers of the Native bluebells are white and it is fragrant unlike the Spanish imposter. And if you already have the Spanish bluebell taking over in your garden, please don’t dump them in the countryside, that’s how they get introduced to the wild and take over.
The UK hosts nearly 75% of the world’s native bluebell population and a large proportion of those are found in Wales so we need to look after them; they are an extremely important part of our national heritage.
Beware of the Bluebell
The romantic poets of the 19th century, such as Keats and Tennyson, believed that the bluebell symbolised solitude and regret. Tennyson also spoke of bluebell juice being used to cure snakebites. And my favourite bluebell factoid – in mythology, bluebells are used by fairies to trap passersby, especially young children. Now that should be an incentive not to pick them!
I always smile when people ask, ‘Why are there so many dandelions this year?’ There is no great mystery or folklore surrounding the yellow carpets – there were obviously a lot last year too, and they all went to seed! Dandelions have one of the longest flowering seasons of any plant and their puff-ball seeds are cleverly designed to be carried as many as 5 miles from their origin.
Still largely considered to be a weed, young dandelion leaves can be eaten in a salad or sandwich and are also known as wild endive. The leaves contain numerous vitamins including more vitamin A than carrots. Up until the 1800s people would pull grass out of their lawns to make room for dandelions and other useful “weeds” like chickweed, malva, and chamomile. Every part of the dandelion is useful with the root, leaves, and flowers used for food, medicine and dye.
The dandelion is considered to be the only flower that represents the 3 celestial bodies of the sun, moon and stars, with the yellow flower resembles the sun, the puff ball resembles the moon and the dispersing seeds resemble the stars. The dandelion flower, rather endearingly, opens to greet the morning and closes in the evening to go to sleep, and in homeopathy, dandelion essence is used to treat overexertion and the feeling of doing too much – no coincidence they flower at this busy time of year then.
And of course the clever dandelion has also developed another ingenious way to get its seeds spread far and wide. As the flowerheads turn to seed, children (and adults) everywhere rush to pick them, so that they can close their eyes, make a wish, and blow the seeds into the air. In addition to granting wishes, many people believe that dandelion seeds will carry your thoughts and dreams to loved ones when you blow them into the air.
This in turn has lead to the lovely phrase that when people see a dandelion, some see a weed and some see a wish!