Spanish Bluebell Plant Profile

Bell-Shaped Beauties

spanish bluebells
David Beaulieu

Spanish bluebell is a late-blooming spring bulb. It is in the asparagus family, as are lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) and Adam's needle (Yucca filamentosa). The flowers are bell-shaped and about 3/4 inch long. They bloom later than bulb plants such as snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), but many gardeners find this tardiness a benefit, not a drawback.

Botanical Name Hyacinthoides hispanica
Common Name Spanish bluebell
Plant Type Spring bulb
Mature Size 7 to 16 inches tall (including the floral stalk), with a spread slightly less than that
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Well-drained soil of average fertility and kept evenly moist
Soil pH Neutral to slightly acidic or slightly alkaline
Bloom Time Varies; May in zone 5
Flower Color shades of blue and lavender; white or pink types are also available
Hardiness Zones 3 to 8
Native Area Southwestern Europe

How to Grow Spanish Bluebells

Plant Spanish bluebell in fall to get blooms the following spring. Choose a spot that will have at least some sun in spring, at the time the plant emerges from the earth. This sunlight requirement is not usually challenging to meet since Spanish bluebell's foliage comes out before that of the deciduous trees. Spanish bluebell flowers can be cut and brought indoors without injuring the plant.

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 in late summer to early fall if you wish to multiply your collection or inject new life into a colony that is petering out due to overcrowding.

These plants 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 bluebell is an invasive plant and is crossing with Hyacinthoides non-scripta, creating a hybrid that dilutes the native stock.

Light

Spanish bluebell is best grown in full sun in cooler climates. Give it partial shade in warmer climates to avoid scorching.

Soil

Due to its preference for well-drained soil, it is helpful to grow the plant in somewhat sandy soil.

Water

The plant has average water needs. If you live in a region where springs are rainy, you should not have to provide artificial irrigation. 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 a number of different settings. It's important to maintain some moisture and to avoid direct sun in hotter areas.

Fertilizer

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.

Varieties of Spanish Bluebell

The common name is a misnomer, perhaps influenced by the similarity to 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 may be the cultivar that comes closest to being true blue.

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

  • For white flowers: White City
  • For deep-lavender flowers: Excelsior
  • For pink flowers: Rosabella

Difference Between the Three "Bluebells"

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's flowers are more fragrant.

Meanwhile, Virginia bluebell (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.

Confusion Over Botanical Name

The botanical names of plants are supposed to make our lives easier as gardeners. 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 a toehold.

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

Uses in Landscaping

Many 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.

Besides its raw beauty, many gardeners value it for the fact that it's a late-blooming spring bulb. By growing Spanish bluebell, you can achieve a longer sequence of bloom from your bulb-plant collection.

Some gardeners grow theirs in a little patch of lawn where they are encouraging spring-flowering bulbs to naturalize.