English vs Spanish Bluebells: What is the Difference?

English and Spanish bluebells are two species of spring flowering bulbs belonging to the Hyacinthoides genus. 

Although both species share similarities, there are several differences between them. We take a look at the difference between English and Spanish bluebells.

Difference between English and Spanish bluebells

English bluebell
Spanish bluebell
Scientific name Hyacinthoides non-scripta Hyacinthoides hispanica
Common names English bluebell, wild hyacinth Spanish hyacinth, wood hyacinth
Native to United Kingdom Iberian Peninsula and Northwest Africa
Flower colour Blue, deep violet-blue, broad and bell-shaped, droop down from the stem Blue, purple or white, narrow and bell-shaped, all on one side of the stem
Flower shape Long and tubular, curved at the end Short, and as wide as it is long
Petal tips
Curled back, tips slightly curved Slightly reflexed, pointed tips
Tepals (petals and sepals) Narrow, without stripes Broad, with a thin white stripe on each
Anthers Creamy white Pale to dark blue
Fragrance Strong and sweet None or mild
Leaves Narrow and strap-shaped, slightly curved edges (0.7 – 1.6 cm wide) Broad and strap-shaped, smooth edges, 2 – 4 cm wide
Stems Slightly curved, flexible Straight, sturdy
Pollen colour Cream Blue or blue-green
Bulbs Large, round-shaped, brownish Small, oval-shaped, brownish
Seeds Brown and matte, larger Black, shiny and small
Blooming season April to May Late March to early May
Height Up to 30 cm (12 inches) Up to 45 cm (18 inches)
Habitat Woodlands, meadows, hedgerows Woodlands, meadows, scrubland, rocky hillsides
Sun tolerance Prefers to grow in shady areas beneath  trees in woods and forests Can tolerate full sun and happily grow in open spaces
Varieties Many, 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.