Bluebells vs Hyacinth: What is the Difference?

Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta or Hyacinthoides hispanica) and hyacinths (Hyacinthus species) are subterranean bulbous perennials popular for their scented flowers that bloom in spring. All three species have, long, strapped leaves and bell-shaped flowers arranged on racemes. However, while bluebells and hyacinths share similarities, they are different species, which we will explore in this article.

English bluebells

<yoastmark class=

  • Symbolism: Humility, constancy, gratitude and everlasting love.
  • Uses: English bluebells are predominantly wildflowers. As a protected species, it is illegal to pick them.

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

Carpet of <yoastmark class=

English bluebells indicate the ancientness of woodland, as they are slow to spread and are 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

<yoastmark class=

  • 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. The Spanish bluebell produces a pale pink, bell-shaped flower with a mild fragrance in spring. They were introduced to the United Kingdom in the 1700s as ornamental flowers, but have escaped into the wild.

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 have evolved to fill similar ecological niches within their native habitats. This is an example of parallel evolution, where similar traits can evolve independently in species that are not closely related because they adapt to similar environments or ecological niches.


<yoastmark class=

  • 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 bluebell Spanish bluebell Hyacinth
Scientific name Hyacinthoides non-scripta Hyacinthoides hispanica Hyacinthus 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 hyacinth Hyacinth, garden hyacinth, woodstock
Native to United Kingdom Iberian Peninsula and Northwest Africa Eastern Meditteranean
Flower shape Drooping, long and tubular, curved at
the end
Short, and as wide as it is long Tubular, bell-shaped
Flower colour Blue, occasionally white Blue, occasionally pink or white Blue, pink, white
Flower arrangement Flowers droop or nod to one side of
the stem
Flowers are arranged all around the
Flowers are densely packed around the
Flowers 6 separate, recurved petals 6 separate, splayed petals 6 petals fused into a tube
Leaves Narrow and strap-shaped, slightly curved edges (0.7 – 1.6 cm wide) Broad and strap-shaped, smooth edges, 2 – 4 cm wide Broad, strap-like
Leaf arrangement Alternate along the stem Alternate along the stem Basal rosette
Scent Strong, sweet fragrance Mild, sweet fragrance Strong, sweet fragrance
Flowering time Mid-spring Mid-spring Early to mid-spring
Use in cut flower arrangement Not commonly used due to drooping habit (and protected) More commonly used than English bluebells Frequently used, highly fragrant
Soil pH preference Slightly acidic to neutral Slightly acidic to neutral Neutral to slightly alkaline
Historical significance Featured in folklore and many classic
English poems
Less cultural significance in the UK Used in ancient Greek festivals;
significant cultural symbol in the Netherlands
Cultural Significance Icon of British woodlands, a symbol of spring Often confused with English bluebells; less cultural
Symbolises playfulness, sport in the language of flowers
Competitiveness Can form dense colonies, outcompeting
other undergrowth in woods
Can be more invasive, and potentially problematic in certain areas Not known for out-competing other
Bulb size Medium Medium Large
Plant height Taller, up to 45 cm (18 inches) Up to 30 cm (12 inches) Shorter, up to 30 cm (12 inches)
Habitat Woodlands, meadows, hedgerows Woodlands, meadows, scrubland, rocky hillsides Open areas, hillsides and fields
Pollen colour Cream Blue, blue-green Light yellow
Uses Woodland gardens, shady borders More sun-tolerant than English Bluebells, suited to
borders and containers
Beds, borders, containers, and indoor forcing
Growing conditions Prefers moist, well-drained soil and partial to full shade Tolerates a wider range of conditions, including full sun Prefers well-drained soil and full sun or partial shade
Pollinators Attracts bees, butterflies, and other insects Attracts bees, butterflies, and other insects Attracts bees, butterflies, and other insects
Hardiness zone USDA Zones 4-5 USDA Zones 4-9 USDA Zones 4-9
Conservation status Protected in the UK Not protected Not protected