Spanish Bluebells: Nice Option for a Late-Blooming Spring Bulb

Growing Tips, How They Differ From Similarly-Named Plants

The spanish bluebells in this picture have blue flowers, but they don't always.
Spanish bluebells are really just bluish-lavender, as in this picture. They also come in other colors. David Beaulieu

Taxonomy and Botany for Spanish Bluebells

Botanists now want us to call Spanish bluebells 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 -- yet another botanical name for the plant.

The scientific names of plants are supposed to make our lives easier as gardeners, giving us precision where there would otherwise be chaos.

Usually, they live up to their mission statement. Sadly, sometimes botanists have trouble figuring out what botanical name they wish to give a plant. The result is that older literature is littered with the rejected names, as the new name struggles to gain preeminence.

That does not exactly make our lives easier, now does it? Unfortunately, such is the case with Spanish bluebells.

Hyacinthoides hispanica is a spring bulb plant.

What the Plant Looks Like

The flowers are bell-shaped and about 3/4 inch long. The common name is something of a misnomer: As you can see from the picture, the flowers are not a true blue. See below for more about the color of the flowers.

Plant height (and the number of flowers per stalk) will vary according to factors such as the size of the bulb. During the first year that you grow these plants in your yard, the tallest plant may reach 16 inches, while the shortest may stand around 7 inches high (these heights include the floral stalk).

Size may diminish in subsequent years. The foliage is basal and sword-shaped, forming a clump. 

Planting Zones, Sun and Soil Requirements, Care

This spring-flowering bulb is suitable for growing in planting zones 3-8. The plant is indigenous to Southwestern Europe. Plant in fall to get blooms the following spring.

It is best grown in full sun in the North. Give it partial shade in the South. The sunlight requirement usually is not challenging to meet, since the foliage is around to soak up the sun's rays in early spring, before the leaves come out on the deciduous trees (see below). This perennial likes a well-drained soil. 

Allow the leaves to die back on their own. As long as they are green, they are taking in nutrients via photosynthesis. Divide the plants late summer to early fall if you wish to propagate them or inject new life into a colony that is petering out due to overcrowding.

Difference Between Spanish Bluebells, Common Bluebells, and Virginia Bluebells

The plant known as "common bluebells" (Hyacinthoides non-scripta, also called "English bluebells") bears flowers and leaves that look like those on the Spanish bluebells plant. But there are easy ways to tell the two apart, according to PlantLife.org.uk, including:

  1. The floral stalk of the common type bends down when the plant is in bloom, thus displaying the flowers under a natural arch
  2. And its 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 English bluebells are more fragrant.

Meanwhile, Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) is an entirely different plant, the similarity in common names notwithstanding. While both of the others have blade-shaped leaves, the Virginia type has oval leaves.

Drawbacks Versus Major Selling Point in Growing Spanish Bluebells

These perennials may naturalize. This adaptability, however, is a double-edged sword. It is a positive if you would like the plants to settle into an area of your landscape and spread. However, this attribute is deemed negative in the United Kingdom, where those interested in native plants have observed that Spanish bluebells is an invasive and is crossing with Hyacinthoides non-scripta, creating a hybrid that dilutes the native stock.

Besides their raw beauty, many gardeners value them for the fact that they are a late-blooming spring bulb. Are you a great admirer of the spring bulb plants? Are you always disappointed when their blooming season is over? By growing Spanish bluebells, you can extend the spring bulb season.

Uses in Landscaping

Do you have problems with planting under trees? It can be hard to find perennials that will simply survive in those conditions, let alone thrive. Hyacinthoides hispanica is a tough plant, and, because its leaves emerge before the deciduous trees come into leaf, its foliage has ample time to send nutrients down to the bulb before the area becomes too shaded.

But there are other uses for them. Some grow theirs in a little patch of lawn where they are encouraging spring-flowering bulbs to naturalize. As alluded to above, since the other bulbs have an earlier blooming season, one can achieve a longer sequence of bloom by using the Spanish bluebells, which bloom in May in a zone-5 landscape, for example.

They make a good cut flower, to boot.

Are Spanish Bluebell Flowers Blue?

The common name is a misnomer, perhaps influenced by the similarity to common bluebells, which have a better claim on having "blue" flowers. The plant shown in the picture above comes about as close to a blue as you are likely to find on a Hyacinthoides hispanica. As you can see, it is really a lavender color, with blue highlights.

This spring-flowering bulb also comes in white and in pink cultivars; for example:

  • For white flowers, there is 'White City'
  • For pink flowers, there is 'Rosabella'

It is relatively difficult to find blooms on any kind of plant that are a true blue. If you browse these pictures of blue flowers, you will see a few, but we often settle for flowers with quite a bit of lavender in them when seeking blue options.