Blink and they’re gone, Bluebells are a sign that the spring is really here, but they are also easy to miss. Fortunately, St Albans and Harpenden have a Bluebell wood on their doorstep. The new Heartwood Forest near St Albans is still in its youth but is nonetheless a great place to see fragrant Bluebells and other wildflowers.
The Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) transforms local woodland in springtime. The carpet of intense blue under the tree canopy is one of the greatest woodland spectacles in the UK.
If you are not sure what a proper English Bluebell looks like they are perennial bulbous herbs with flowering stems about 50cm tall. They spend most of the year as bulbs underground and emerge to flower from April onwards. The leaves are 7mm to 25mm wide and 45cm long and are strap-shaped with a pointed tip. They are smooth and hairless with a succulent appearance.
An English Bluebell has up to 20 sweetly-scented flowers on a flower stalk which droops or nods to one side. The flowers are bell-shaped and can be blue, white or rarely pink. Each flower has 6 petals with recurved (up-turned) tips. Anthers have white-cream coloured pollen.
English Bluebells around St Albans and Harpenden, in combination with other species, are a true indicator of ancient woodland in the UK. In times gone by they had some interesting uses, the gummy Bluebell sap was used to bind pages into the spines of books. Bronze Age people used Bluebell to set feathers upon arrows, known as fletching. Bluebell bulbs were even crushed to provide starch for the ruffs of Elizabethan collars and sleeves.
Cared for by the Woodland Trust, Heartwood Forest near St Albans has waymarked walking paths. It is a vast new forest of more than half a million trees, pockets of ancient woodland, wildflower meadows, a perfect spot for seeing Bluebells by St Albans and Harpenden.