April 2nd, 2008
Hyacinthoides hispanica, Spanish Bluebells

Spanish bluebells
Spanish bluebells in Texas.

The year we met, I planted bluebells for AJM to remind him of home. I know that when I was an ex-patriot, that I really missed the sheets of bluebonnets that signal spring to a Texan.

Now the bluebells I planted weren’t the wildlings of English woodlands, Hyacinthoides non-scripta; they were the larger, garden variety from Spain, Hyacinthoides hispanica. As it turned out, for many years Spanish bluebells were the variety preferred by English gardeners because the flowers are larger and form on both sides of the stem, and because the plants more vigorous. Apparently too vigorous. In recent years, concerns about invasive aliens interbreeding with the natives have raised alarms in England. The beloved native is threatened by a Spanish army breaching the garden walls.

This is not a problem in Central Texas so I grow my Spanish bluebells without guilt. They grow very well here, die down quickly after they bloom, and come back reliably without being aggressive.

Spanish bluebells
Spanish bluebells in Texas.

I finally got to see English bluebells in their native habitat when we drove down to Oxford and the Cotswolds a couple of years ago. Impressive. Sheets of blue. Just like bluebonnets!
English bluebells
English bluebells in England. I don’t know if the color is really that much deeper or if it’s just a trick of the light.

by M Sinclair Stevens

9 Responses to post “Hyacinthoides hispanica, Spanish Bluebells”

  1. From Jan:

    I have been considering growing Spanish bluebells for the last two years. Your post has convinced me to give them a try, so this fall I will be planting some in my garden.

    Jan Always Growing

    Spanish bluebells also come in pink and white. I like blue flowers, so that’s what I got although they are very light compared to our Texas bluebonnets…almost a lavender. I’ve had these bulbs for about 15 years and they’ve almost doubled in number. I’d have more if I were more focused on digging them up and dividing them. — mss

  2. From Frances (Tennessee):

    Those are luscious. This year we decided to order the non scriptas to start in our woodsy area. They are up but no flower buds yet. They are smaller than the spanish ones, so far. We have grown those, hispanicas, and they are truly very reliable, and not bothered by critters either. Those English gardeners do have a dilemma with the invasion though. The only blue bulb here that could be considered invasive is the grape hyacinth, but we love that it is everywhere, not really threatening any natives, that I can tell, anyway. But what do I know?

    I’m glad they do well in your climate too. They seem to be tough little bulbs. Unlike the stiffer tulips and large-cup daffodils, there seems to be something wilder and more carefree about the bluebells. — mss

  3. From linda:

    I’ve had spanish bluebells in gardens in the past and loved them. Blue is my favorite flower color. This fall I MUST plant more bulbs! (So far I’ve planted only daffodils here.)

  4. From Gail:

    They are sweet flowers and not at all pushy here in Nashville…I do believe I have the spanish variety, as you said reliable and hardy…I have stepped on them and they still manage to flower!

    The English field is lovely…


  5. From Rachel @ in bloom:

    Your Spanish bluebells are gorgeous! What kind of growing conditions do they favor here in Texas?

    They seem to thrive on neglect and they do not mind filtered shade. I have them growing in a shaded area along my south fence where only English ivy and oxalis grow. The only thing I do is water them after I see their noses pushing up in the early spring. After they stop blooming, I ignore them until the next year. Maybe I’d get more or taller flowers if I fed them, but I don’t. — mss

  6. From Dawn:

    Beautiful MSS! I’m glad to know they are not invasive here. I love to plant without guilt. Sorry to hear they are a problem in England. You know what Monty Python used to say: “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”. 😉

    Exactly so. (Like those weird bluebonnets, they come in pink and white as well.) — mss

  7. From Esther Montgomery Southern England:

    In England the word ‘Spanish’ associated with bluebell, sends shudders down the spine. It’s like ‘Ripper’ with ‘Jack’ – or ‘murder’ with ‘mayhem’.

    The bluebells in the photo are oddly situated. Usually, they are in woodland – flowering before the leaf canopy develops – not out in the open like this.

    Part of the charm in woodland is the effect dappled light gives when it falls on extensive sheets of blue – and the colour looks more powdery under the trees.

    (Um . . . I don’t like grape hyacinths.)

    (Or tulips.)

    (Um . . . or bluebells in gardens.)

    (Um . . . I’m a grump!)

    I know they are suppose to be in the “bluebell woods” but we just happened to see this patch in a field when we were driving down to Oxford. I make AJM “brake for flowers”. — mss

  8. From Esther Montgomery Southern England:

    I’ve been thinking about this all day. I think the problem in Britain is that bluebells propagate by seed as well as by division of bulbs. The genes in the Spanish Bluebell dominate if there is cross-polination – which means the problem isn’t so much that it is invasive (you just dig out the bulbs when there are too many) but that the Spanish ones threaten to wipe out the others. But – if you haven’t got the others to start with – you haven’t got a problem.

    (Sorry Dawn about the ‘Inquisition’! Sort of got stuck on it!)

    Thanks for the clarification, Esther. Yes, the problem is with cross-pollination making the native strain less pure. This is also a problem with native versus cultivated daffodils in the Lake District, isn’t it? — mss

  9. From Jane in Portland, Oregon:

    Wood hyacinths are extremely invasive here, have taken over some flower beds completely. I’m checking the Internet for ways to get rid of them. Too late I found out they propagate by seed as well numerous teeny tiny bulbs. Some years ago my son put the soil from one flower bed through a 1/4″ mesh and the next spring the bed was absolutely full of the darn things. Yes, for years I loved and preserved them. Now… how do I rid my garden of them without using chemicals? Sheet mulching?

    I don’t have any advice for getting rid of them. Between the squirrels and 100 degree days down here in Texas, I can barely keep mine alive. — mss