Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) is a late-blooming spring bulb native to Spain, Portugal, and northwest Africa. It has been grown in European woodlands for centuries and it’s in that type of sun-dappled setting in well-drained sandy soil that the plant does best.
From each bulb, two to six strap-shaped linear leaves emerge with a rigid upright flower stem in the center. The flower stem can be up to 18 inches tall, which makes the flowers—12 to 20 hanging, bell-shaped, lavender-blue flowers about 3/4 inch long—stand out quite prominently over the foliage.
Spanish bluebell is planted in the fall and typically blooms April to early May. It is a good choice for an extended display of spring flowers when earlier spring bulbs such as snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) are long gone.
The plant is toxic to humans, and toxic to pets.
|Common Name||Spanish bluebell, wood hyacinth|
|Botanical Name||Hyacinthoides hispanica|
|Plant Type||Bulb, perennial|
|Mature Size||6-18 in. tall, 6-18 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral, acidic, alkaline|
|Flower Color||Blue, purple, white, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||3-8 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans, toxic to pets|
Spanish Bluebell Care
Plant Spanish bluebell in the autumn and it will bloom in spring. Choose a spot that receives at least some sun in spring, at the time the plant emerges from the earth. This sunlight requirement is not usually challenging to meet because Spanish bluebell foliage appears before that of deciduous trees. Spanish bluebell flowers can be cut and brought indoors without injuring the plant.
After flowering is finished, allow the foliage to die back completely on its own. While its foliage is still green, the bulbs are taking in nutrients via photosynthesis and storing energy for next year's blooms.
In the United Kingdom, those interested in native plants have observed that Spanish bluebell is an invasive plant and is crossing with Hyacinthoides non-scripta, creating a hybrid that dilutes the native stock.
Spanish bluebell is best grown in full sun in cooler climates. Give it partial shade in warmer climates to avoid scorching.
Due to its preference for well-drained soil, it is helpful to grow the plant in somewhat sandy soil.
The plant has average water needs. If you live in a region where rainfall is plentiful in spring, you should not have to provide supplemental water. If you live in a drier region, make sure the soil does not completely dry out in spring.
Temperature and Humidity
Spanish bluebells are native to cool, shady, damp, well-drained woodlands. They are, however, quite hardy and able to adapt to different settings. It's important to maintain some moisture and to avoid direct sun in hotter areas.
Amend the soil with organic material such as peat moss, bark, manure, or compost at planting time and periodically thereafter. This will help to increase drainage, a key factor for successful growth.
Types of Spanish Bluebell
The common name is a misnomer, perhaps influenced by the similarity to the common bluebell, which has a better claim on having blue flowers. The typical Spanish bluebell color is really a lavender color, with blue highlights. 'Blue Giant' might be the cultivar that comes closest to being true blue.
This spring-flowering bulb also comes in other colors. For example:
- 'White City' offers white flowers
- 'Excelsior' blooms profusely with deep lavender flowers
- 'Rosabella' offers up vivid pink blooms
Remove spent flowers immediately to prevent the plant from self-seeding. As a great alternative, cut the flowers when in full bloom and bring them indoors to enjoy.
Propagating Spanish Bluebells
Spanish bluebells propagate easily on their own by underground runners that form new bulbs. But you can also actively propagate them in a controlled way:
- Dig up the bulbs when the flowers are spent but the foliage is still robust.
- Separate the new bulbs from the old ones.
- Replant the new bulbs immediately in an appropriate place in the garden, at the same depth as the original plant.
How to Grow Spanish Bluebells From Seed
Growing Spanish bluebell from seed is exceedingly difficult because it can take up to two years to germinate and up to five years to create a bulb suitable for flowering. For this reason, propagating by division is recommended.
Potting and Repotting Spanish Bluebells
When potting Spanish bluebells, keep in mind that they can grow up to 18 inches tall with the flower racemes at the top of the stem, so they need a container wide enough to handle the height without enabling the plant to topple over. Make sure the pot has excellent drainage. In a larger container, you can plant more than one bulb but keep them at least four inches apart to avoid a fight for nutrients. Plant them in well-draining soil at least a few inches deep, water them thoroughly, and give them partial sun. Dig up the bulbs and divide them every few years to ensure the plants continue to thrive.
If you are growing in pots, bring them indoors for the winter. A cool, dark spot like an unheated garage will help keep the plants at 60 degrees Fahrenheit or below for the necessary winter dormancy. If your bulbs are in the ground in their appropriate zones, a layer of mulch will help them get through the cold.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
This plant is very resistant to pests and plant diseases. Root rot, however, can be a problem if the bulbs are grown in anything less than well-draining soil.
How to Get Spanish Bluebells to Bloom
One of the biggest mistakes gardeners make with Spanish bluebell is cutting back the foliage too early. It can be tempting to cut back foliage after the flowers are spent to tidy up the garden. However, the plant needs the foliage to continue drawing energy during the last few weeks before dormancy so that it can bloom well the following season. To that end, leave the foliage alone until it has yellowed and withered, and then cut it back. This should result in more spectacular blooms next season.
Common Problems with Spanish Bluebell
Spanish bluebell can become invasive if kept unchecked; therefore, dig up the bulbs every few years and rehome the new bulbs that spring from the parent plant. They will readily hybridize with English bluebells, so don't plant these two together. Because Spanish bluebells can irritate your hands, always wear gloves when working with them.
What's with the confusion about the Spanish bluebell name?
Botanists now want us to call Spanish bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica. But older names persist, including Scilla hispanica; they were also formerly placed in the Endymion genus. The package that you buy at the store may well be labeled Scilla campanulata, which is yet another botanical name for the plant.
What is the difference between Spanish bluebell and English bluebell?
The plant known as common bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta, also called English bluebell) bears flowers and leaves that look like those on the Spanish bluebell plant. But there are easy ways to tell the two apart: The floral stalk of the common bluebell bends down when the plant is in bloom, thus displaying the flowers under a natural arch. Common bluebell's blooms line up on one side of the floral stalk.
By contrast, Hyacinthoides hispanica pushes up a straight flower stalk. Moreover, its flowers emerge from multiple sides of the stalk.
A third identifying trait for those who like to use their noses is that common bluebell flowers are more fragrant.
What are good companion plants to Spanish bluebell?
Spanish bluebells look great with daffodils, Asiatic lilies, and oxalis.