Bluebells vs Hyacinth: What is the Difference?

Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta or Hyacinthoides hispanica) and hyacinth (Hyacinthus species) are two types of spring-flowering plant grown for their scented flowers. However, there are some key differences between the two plants. We take a look into the world of these springtime blooms and explore the differences in appearance, growth habits and care requirements.

English bluebells

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  • Symbolism: Humility, constancy, gratitude and everlasting love.
  • Uses: English bluebells are predominantly a wildflower, although they may be grown in gardens. They are not used in the floral industry or as a cut flower. It is illegal to pick English bluebells as they are a protected species.

English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) are a bulbous perennial native to woodland areas of the United Kingdom. In spring, the English bluebell produces a carpet of highly scented deep blue flowers. The tubular, bell-shaped flowers have a distinctive drooping appearance, which hangs down one side on the tall, slender stem.

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English bluebells are used to indicate the ancientness of woodland, as they are slow to spread and usually found in older-growth areas. Unfortunately, they are at risk due to the loss of woodland, which now accounts for only 13% of land area in the UK, as well as competition from Spanish bluebells and English x Spanish bluebell hybrids.

The term “bluebell” derives from the distinct shape and colour of the flower. The blossoms are bell-shaped and typically exhibit a rich, blue color.

Spanish bluebells

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  • Symbolism: Humility, constancy.
  • Uses: Spanish bluebells are grown for ornamental purposes. They are not protected and can be picked.

Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) are a bulbous perennial native to the Iberian Peninsula. During spring, the Spanish bluebell produces a pale pink, bell-shaped flower with a mild fragrance. They were brought to the United Kingdom as an ornamental flower.

The Royal Horticultural Society recommends against growing Spanish bluebells, particularly near areas where wild bluebells grow, as they can hybridise with English bluebells to produce Hyacinthoides x massartiana. This hybrid can outcompete the native English bluebell.

English and Spanish bluebells share similarities as they have evolved to fill similar ecological niches within their respective habitats. This is an example of parallel evolution, where similar traits can evolve independently in species that are not closely related, often because they adapt to similar environments or ecological niches.


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  • Symbolism: Playfulness, loveliness, loyalty, friendship
  • Uses: Cut flowers, indoor pot plant, outdoor pot plant, garden beds

Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis) is a small genus of bulbous perennials native to the eastern Mediterranean, from the north of Bulgaria through to the northern part of the region of Palestine. Vibrant clusters of highly fragrant flowers bloom in early spring. The densely packed flowers grow along the stem in a conical or cylindrical shape and grow in a variety of colours including blue, white, pink, purple and yellow.

Hyacinths are commonly grown in decorative pots indoors or outdoors during their blooming period. They perform a spectacular display when grown in clusters.

The name hyacinth is from Greek mythology. Hyacinthos (Ὑακινθος) was a beautiful spartan prince loved by the god Apollo. While throwing a discus, Apollo accidentally hit Hyacinthos, killing him. A flower sprang up where Hyacinthos’s blood spilled, which Apollo named ‘hyacinth‘ in his honour.

Difference between English bluebells, Spanish bluebells and hyacinth

English bluebellSpanish bluebellHyacinth
Scientific nameHyacinthoides non-scripta Hyacinthoides hispanicaHyacinthus orientalis
Common names

Bluebell, English bluebell, British bluebell, wild hyacinth, wood bell, fairy flower, cuckoo’s boots, granfer griggles, witches’ thimbles and bell bottle

Spanish hyacinth, wood hyacinthHyacinth, garden hyacinth, woodstock
Native toUnited KingdomIberian Peninsula and Northwest AfricaEastern Meditteranean
Flower shapeDrooping, long and tubular, curved at
the end
Short, and as wide as it is longTubular, bell-shaped
Flower colourBlue, occasionally whiteBlue, occasionally pink or whiteBlue, pink, white
Flower arrangementFlowers droop or nod to one side of
the stem
Flowers are arranged all around the
Flowers are densely packed around the
Flowers6 separate, recurved petals6 separate, splayed petals6 petals fused into a tube
LeavesNarrow and strap-shaped, slightly curved edges (0.7 – 1.6 cm wide)Broad and strap-shaped, smooth edges, 2 – 4 cm wideBroad, strap-like
Leaf arrangementAlternate along the stemAlternate along the stemBasal rosette
ScentStrong, sweet fragranceMild, sweet fragranceStrong, sweet fragrance
Flowering timeMid-springMid-springEarly to mid-spring
Use in cut flower arrangementNot commonly used due to drooping habit (and protected)More commonly used than English bluebellsFrequently used, highly fragrant
Soil pH preferenceSlightly acidic to neutralSlightly acidic to neutralNeutral to slightly alkaline
Historical significanceFeatured in folklore and many classic
English poems
Less cultural significance in the UKUsed in ancient Greek festivals;
significant cultural symbol in the Netherlands
Cultural SignificanceIcon of British woodlands, a symbol of springOften confused with English bluebells; less cultural
Symbolises playfulness, sport in the language of flowers
CompetitivenessCan form dense colonies, outcompeting
other undergrowth in woods
Can be more invasive, and potentially problematic in certain areasNot known for out-competing other
Bulb sizeMediumMediumLarge
Plant heightTaller, up to 45 cm (18 inches)Up to 30 cm (12 inches)Shorter, up to 30 cm (12 inches)
HabitatWoodlands, meadows, hedgerowsWoodlands, meadows, scrubland, rocky hillsidesOpen areas, hillsides and fields
Pollen colourCreamBlue, blue-greenLight yellow
UsesWoodland gardens, shady bordersMore sun-tolerant than English Bluebells, suited to
borders and containers
Beds, borders, containers, and indoor forcing
Growing conditionsPrefers moist, well-drained soil and partial to full shadeTolerates a wider range of conditions, including full sunPrefers well-drained soil and full sun or partial shade
PollinatorsAttracts bees, butterflies, and other insectsAttracts bees, butterflies, and other insectsAttracts bees, butterflies, and other insects
Hardiness zoneUSDA Zones 4-5USDA Zones 4-9USDA Zones 4-9
Conservation statusProtected in the UKNot protectedNot protected