English vs Spanish Bluebells: What is the Difference?

The English and Spanish bluebells are two distinct species of flowering plants that belong to the Hyacinthoides genus. Although they may appear similar at first glance, there are several differences between them that become obvious once you know what to look for. These variations encompass aspects such as their scientific names, origins, flower shapes, colours, scents, and other physical features. Understanding these distinctions can help you appreciate the unique characteristics of each species, as well as identify them more accurately in their natural habitats.
Whether you’re a gardening enthusiast or simply an admirer of wildflowers, being able to differentiate between English and Spanish bluebells can enhance your knowledge and appreciation of these beautiful springtime bloomers. Difference between English and Spanish bluebells
English bluebell Spanish bluebell
Scientific nameHyacinthoides non-scriptaHyacinthoides hispanica
Common namesEnglish bluebell, wild hyacinthSpanish hyacinth, wood hyacinth
Native toUnited KingdomIberian Peninsula and Northwest Africa
Flower colourBlue, deep violet-blue, broad and bell-shaped, droop down from the stemBlue, purple or white, narrow and bell-shaped, all on one side of the stem
Flower shapeLong and tubular, curved at the endShort, and as wide as it is long
Petal tips Curled back, tips slightly curvedSlightly reflexed, pointed tips
Tepals (petals and sepals)Narrow, without stripesBroad, with a thin white stripe on each
AnthersCreamy whitePale to dark blue
FragranceStrong and sweetNone or mild
LeavesNarrow and strap-shaped, slightly curved edges (0.7 – 1.6 cm wide)Broad and strap-shaped, smooth edges, 2 – 4 cm wide
StemsSlightly curved, flexibleStraight, sturdy
Pollen colourCreamBlue or blue-green
BulbsLarge, round-shaped, brownishSmall, oval-shaped, brownish
SeedsBrown and matte, largerBlack, shiny and small
Blooming seasonApril to MayLate March to early May
HeightUp to 30 cm (12 inches)Up to 45 cm (18 inches)
HabitatWoodlands, meadows, hedgerowsWoodlands, meadows, scrubland, rocky hillsides
Sun tolerancePrefers to grow in shady areas beneath  trees in woods and forestsCan tolerate full sun and happily grow in open spaces
VarietiesMany, including alba (white), rosea (pink), and azure (blue-violet)One, but has some variation in flower colour and shape
Related: What’s the difference between English and French lavender?  

What are bluebells?

What are bluebells?
English bluebells
Bluebells are a genus of bulbous perennial plants known for their bell-shaped scented blue flowers that are native to Eurasia. Their preferred habitat is woodland areas where they produce a carpet of blue in spring. We usually visit England in May when the bluebells are in full swing, and the vision of a mass of blue flowers is breathtaking. I’ve been unsuccessful in finding English bluebells here in Australia, but the Spanish variety is widely available and pop up their heads in September (early spring).
Homegrown Spanish bluebells
Homegrown Spanish bluebells. Photo by Julia Wilson.
The English or common bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) is native to the United Kingdom is an understory perennial that lives in the shade of deciduous forests and woodlands. Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) are native to Spain, Portugal, and Northwest Africa and can grow in full to partial sun. The Spanish bluebell was introduced to England by the Victorians as an ornamental plant and managed to escape gardens. It is now widespread throughout the United Kingdom and is considered a threat to native English bluebells. Cross-breeding between English and Spanish bluebells has created a hybrid (H. × massartiana) which may become a dominant species over the native bluebell.
Bluebells at Roseberry Topping
Bluebells at Roseberry Topping. Photo by Julia Wilson.

Frequently asked questions

White Spanish bluebells
White Spanish bluebells. Photo by Julia Wilson.

Should I get rid of my Spanish bluebells?

If you live in the United Kingdom, the removal of Spanish bluebells is recommended, especially if you live close to woodlands. The Royal Horticulture Society in the United Kingdom recommends digging Spanish bluebells and hybrids out when the leaves are visible. Do not put tubers in compost or green waste bins.

Do Spanish bluebells have a scent?

Spanish bluebells have almost no scent, the English bluebell has a strong, sweet and fruity scent.

Are Spanish bluebells invasive?

Spanish bluebells in the United Kingdom are considered invasive and should be removed.

Is it against the law to pick English bluebells?

The Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) protects bluebells. It is against the law to pick, uproot or destroy English bluebells. Landowners cannot remove bluebells from their land to sell. The problem with picking bluebells is that removing the flower eliminates the potential for seed production, therefore reducing the number of bluebells in the wild.