Bluebells and Wild Garlic are in flower now in many woodlands. The two species often grow in the same wood but hardly ever grow together. They form large clumps and out-compete one another. Wild garlic comes into leaf earlier than bluebell and so may have a competitive advantage. Bluebells need more light than wild garlic and so like the dappled light of a woodland before the tree canopy shades the ground. The presence of Bluebells and Wild Garlic is an indicator that the woodland has existed for a very long time.
The two species are members of different families. Bluebells are members of the Asparagus family which has 114 genera and 2900 species and includes Agave, Camassia, Hosta, Yucca, Asparagus, Hyacinth, Grape hyacinth, Bluebell, Squill and Star of Bethlehem. Wild Garlic is an allium ( similar to the garden alliums) and is a member of the Daffodil family – which has1600 species including Alliums, Agapanthus, Snowdrop, Snowflake, Nerine, Belladonna Lily and Daffodil.
mid April central England
Despite their beauty, bluebells, unlike wild garlic, are poisonous and contain about 15 biologically active compounds to defend themselves from animals and insect pests.
Bluebells are common in woods throughout Britain in spring. flowers are arranged on a one-sided, drooping shoot (raceme). The flower has 6 blue tepals , 6 Stamens and 1 style which is attached to a green superior ovary (see photo below). Bees and other insects are attracted by nectar secreted from glands in the ovary wall. Honey-bees steal nectar by pushing their tongues between the base of the tepals.
This photo shows the superior, green ovary with an erect pale blue style, topped by a receptive stigma. Four of the 6 stamens are shown loaded with yellow pollen. 3 stamens are short and three long. The 6 blue tepals are fused into a tube. To avoid self-pollination it is thought that the female stigma is fertile before the male anthers release pollen.
mid May Lake District
The leaves and flowers of the Wild Garlic are edible. Leaves appear in March and are best picked when young. They give off a strong smell of garlic when crushed. The plant, native to Britain, is also known as Bear leek, Bear’s garlic, Broad-leaved garlic, Buckrams, Ramsons and Wood garlic. In continental Europe, the bulbs are thought to be a favourite food of brown bears, hence the plant’s scientific name Allium ursinum. Ramsons is an old english word for garlic.
Flowers in mid May
Ramsons Allium ursinum is a native wild flower found throughout Britain in damp woods and shady places. Also known as Wild Garlic. The flowers emerge from April to June. The flowers are arranged in the form of an umbel with multiple flowers coming from a single point. Each flower has a 3-lobed green ovary, 6 white tepals and 6 anthers. They are pollinated by small insects.
By mid-June the fruits have formed.
The fruits contain seeds. Some farmers now collect the seeds and sell them to gardeners. In woodlands the plants usually spread by bulb division and so form large clumps but can regenerate from seed.