The bluebells ring,
In joyous royal hues.
Along streamside glades,
Their bright parade,
Proclaims the vernal news!
I've never encountered a swath of bluebells I didn't adore. In fact, I'm almost incapable of passing even a single plant without taking a moment to pause and admire the exquisite combination of blue and pink that blend so perfectly into the quintessential announcement of spring's arrival.
There's a little creek not far from here, a pastoral tributary of the stream which flows past my snug stone cottage, which my late friend Frank and I used to regularly wade to fish for smallmouth bass. One stretch in particular, where the footing was tricky but the fish large and plentiful, we called Bluebell Run. Practically the entire north bank along this deep, rocky portion of stream—a low, rich-soiled glade shaded by ancient sycamores—was carpeted in bluebells every April. As often as not, before fishing the water, my old pal and I both got out of the stream to spend time among the bluebells, oohing and aahing, taking photos…for Frank was as much a pushover for beauty as he was for bass.
Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica, were named by Carolus Linnaeus for the German botanist Franz Mertens. They are a tall plant, as spring's wildflowers go, often growing more than two feet high. They like rich, loamy, damp soils, and so I most often find them along streamside floodplains and upland woods—places where there's a good mix of cool shade and fertile earth.
It's easy to see where bluebells get their name, since the clusters of flowers, each bloom an inch or two long, look remarkably like little bells. Blossoms begin as pink buds that turn sky blue as they bloom and mature. Sometimes, though rarely, the blooms remain pink, or come out as white; and the blues can be anything from a pale wash to a deep purple. Bluebells are true spring ephemerals—coming and going during the first week's of the new season.
Some sources cite butterflies as the flowers chief pollinators. Others say bumblebees—though the butterfly contingent claims bumblebees are rarely successful because they're forced to hover to get the job done. Earlier this week, when I walked through the acres of bluebells located in a woods just up the road from here, I don't recall a single butterfly among the thousands upon thousands of blooms…but I did see lots of big, dark bumblebees, and they didn't seem to be having any trouble sticking half their bodies into the hanging blue flowers.
Bluebells say it all! Their quiet beauty is somehow louder than a shout. And whenever I hear them pealing their vernal news, I stop to listen…because the I love the visual sound of a brand new spring.