The naming of Hyacinthoides non-scripta   Bluebell

Why non-scripta?

The species name non-scripta means "not written" and makes no sense without delving into Greek mythology:

Hyakinthos, a handsome young Spartan Prince was much loved by the Gods. When the god Apollo was playing a game with Hyakinthos, Zephyrus the god of west wind who also loved Hyakinthos, grew jealous and blew the disc used in the game. The disc went off course and struck Hyakinthos in the head killing him.

According to the Roman Poet Ovid, the grieving Appollo transformed the dying boy into a Larkspur flower (Delphinium ajacis) the petals of which formed the letters AI, AI (Alas! in Greek). Actually the flower he was turned into rather depends on which version of the myth you've come across. The flower was possibly a Fritillary, an Iris or a Larkspur but all were supposed to be shaped or stained with the Greek letters: AI.

Our common bluebell was thought to be related to the plant which Apollo created from the dying Hyakinthos but having no such letters was named Hyacinthus non-scriptus by Linnaeus: A Hyacinth without the letters. In fact you won't find a Hyacinth described as scriptus because no Hyacinth has flowers marked this way. The flowers and their name have become confused.

A fuller description is here: More about hyancinths

Since then our beloved bluebell has been variously ascribed the following systematic names:

Hyacinthus anglicus used in Gerard's Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes in 1597 by John Gerard

Hyacinthus non-scriptus (L.) Linnaeus coined this name introducing the non-scriptus species name

Agraphis nutans Link. This is still used in Homeopathy. Agraphis means the same as non scriptus and nutans means nodding.

Scilla festalis, Salisb. (Flowers of the Field Rev C.A. Johns)

Scilla nutans Sm. (Clapham, Tutin & Moore 1989).

Scilla non-scripta (L.) Hoffsgg . & Link

Endymion non scriptus (L.) Garke This was the name we all used when I started botanising seriously in the 1970s

Hyacinthoides non scriptus - used at first after Endymion had been superseded e.g. in The Wild Flower Key by Francis Rose.

Hyacinthoides non scripta (L.) Chouard ex Rothm. This is the most recent name found in many modern Floras and texts.

Perhaps the English names might be fewer and simpler?  No such luck. Like many English names they vary around the country according to Geoffrey Grigson in his excellent but out-of-print book The Englishman's Flora:

Bluebell, Crawtraes, Wild Hyancinth, Blue Bonnets, Blue Bottle, Blue Goggles, Blue Granfer Greygles, Blue Rocket, Blue Trumpet, Bummack, Bummuck, Crakefeet, Crawfeet, Cross flower, Crow-bells, Crow-Flower, Crowfoot, Crow picker, Crows Legs, Crowtoes, Cuckoo, Cuckoo Flower, Cuckoo's Boots, Cuckoo's Stockings, Culvers, Culverkeys, Fairy Bells, Goosey Gander, Gowk's Hose, Granfer Gregors, Grammar Greygles, Granfer Griddlesticks, Greygles, Harebell, Pride of the Wood Ring O'Bells, Rooks Flower, Single Gussies, Snake's flower, Snapgrass and Wood Bells.

The extra confusion is provided by names such as Crowfoot which is the name we use for certain water borne members of the Ranunculaceae, Cuckoo Flower which we use for Cardamine pratensis and Harebell which we use for Campanula rotundifolia.

Botanists in the British Isles most often use New Flora of the British Isles by Professor Clive Stace as their reference book. The third edition was published in April 2010 and to everyone's great relief no further changes to either the English or the Latin names of the Bluebell have been proposed.

Added on 2nd May 2010, updated 25th Nov 2014

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