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Sirens & Fiddleheads...

22 May 2016 00:17

Sirens & Fiddleheads...

As I walk through the woodland, swathes of sapphire carpet lay before me, the sweet smell of spring in the air, accompanied by armies of green soldiers, standing with shoulders proud, their arms outstretched and their heads under helmets. The sapphire sirens serenade us whilst the forest fiddleheads forge through the undergrowth…

To what am I referring you may ask; bluebells and ferns of course.

Nestled in woodlands, hedgerows and clumped under trees, the smell that greets us during April and May is the sweet, intoxicating aroma of bluebells. Belonging to the lily family, bluebells are in fact wild hyacinths and are a protected species, but their heady aroma welcomes me as I wander aimlessly through woodland to find them.

With two types of bluebell in our woodlands; the English Native bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), both have quite distinctive differences. Our native English bluebell (as photographed above) is easily recognised for its elegant arching floral stems, with the characteristic blue bell shaped flowers, dangling down its length. In comparison to this, the Spanish bluebell stands upright and is a slightly lighter shade of blue, with its bells on either side of its stem. If you look carefully at the bells of both types of bluebells, then you will notice that the English flowers’ petals, curl elegantly back, whilst the Spanish variety splay outwards. Inside the bells, lying in wait for the eager bees to land, is the pollen which in the native bluebell is white, whilst the Spanish bluebell has blue pollen with practically no scent, unlike that of the English flower. So, if you see a bee floating past you in a bluebell wood look to see what colour socks he has on, then you will know whether he prefers the English or the Spanish variety, depending on whether he is wearing white or blue socks!

Occasionally, as you walk through the woodland, you will notice a different colour bluebell, sometimes pink and sometimes white. These bluebells are hybrids of the more aggressive and invasive Spanish species, which unfortunately seems to be invading our woodlands… Sounds like the Spanish Armada all over again! Let’s hope that history repeats itself and Mother Nature can once again defeat the Spanish…


  • Did you know that Britain contains more than half of the World’s population of bluebells?
  • The bluebell was Voted as England’s favourite wild flower in 2015
  • The majority of our bluebells are to be found in Ancient Woodland
  • The bluebell is an Ancient Woodland Vascular Plant (AWVP) ~ indicator of Ancient Woodland
  • Known as ‘Fairy Flowers’ in Folklore, it is said that one who hears the bluebell ring, will soon die!
  • A field of bluebells is intricately woven with fairy enchantments
  • The sap from the bluebell can cause dermatitis
  • During the Bronze Age the sap was used to attach feathers to arrows
  • The Victorians used the starch from bluebells to stiffen their collars and cuffs
  • Emily Bronte wrote a poem about the bluebell in 1838 ~ as detailed


The Bluebell

The Bluebell is the sweetest flower

That waves in summer air:
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit's care.

There is a spell in purple heath
Too wildly, sadly dear;
The violet has a fragrant breath,
But fragrance will not cheer,

The trees are bare, the sun is cold,
And seldom, seldom seen;
The heavens have lost their zone of gold,
And earth her robe of green.

And ice upon the glancing stream
Has cast its sombre shade;
And distant hills and valleys seem
In frozen mist arrayed.

The Bluebell cannot charm me now,
The heath has lost its bloom;
The violets in the glen below,
They yield no sweet perfume.

But, though I mourn the sweet Bluebell,
'Tis better far away;
I know how fast my tears would swell
To see it smile to-day.

For, oh! when chill the sunbeams fall
Adown that dreary sky,
And gild yon dank and darkened wall
With transient brilliancy;

How do I weep, how do I pine
For the time of flowers to come,
And turn me from that fading shine,
To mourn the fields of home!

Written by Emily Bronte 18/12/1838

Have you ever noticed the bracken and fern as it pushes its way up through the undergrowth during the Spring? Take a closer look next time you are in the woods and you may well notice the sprouting fiddleheads of the new growth, prising its way betwixt the forest floor.   

Marching proud through the woodlands at this time of year you will see an army of Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) and Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) emerging over mounds, squeezing through small crevises and trailing across heathland, all reaching towards the summit and nearer to the sky. First appearing, shaped like the top of a violin, fiddleheads are a delicacy in many countries and are known as warabi in Japan and koru (Mãori for ‘loop’) in New Zealand. On Vancouver Island, in Canada, the First Nations people collected bracken roots, considering them as a luxury food, and ate them roasted. New Zealand Mãoris and Australian Aborigines traditionally eat bracken root and in Siberia a beer is made by fermenting the roots of bracken with barley.

  • The fern in New Zealand is the unofficial symbol of the Nation’s identity
  • The ‘koru’ is used as the commercial logo for Air New Zealand
  • The Silver Fern leaf is represented on many NZ sports teams eg. The All Blacks
  • Harmful to cattle and dogs as the fronds contain cancer inducing enzymes
  • Not recommended for consumption during pregnancy

For fabulous and interesting recipes to try with fiddleheads and other foraged goodies, take a look at the website of  ~ Hunter.Angler.Gardener.Cook ~ maybe try a few…

Bracken and fern can be easily mistaken for one another but one identifying factor that I go by is that bracken grows in single fronds, that can easily be pulled when young, whereas ferns grow in a clump and look more feathery!