National Park

After centuries of dormancy, ‘beautiful’ hyacinths bloom in England’s national park

Clumps of brilliantly colored hyacinths have bloomed in Exmoor National Park in south-west England. It wouldn’t normally be so exciting – but in this case, it looks like the flowers have been “sleeping” for centuries, biding their time and waiting for a chance to sprout.

The flowers have remained dormant for centuries.

bluebells (the Hyacinthoides genus of flowers) are often found in forests across the UK and Europe, but the area where they have flourished in Exmoor is an exposed hillside for centuries. Park authorities have been working to change this, and they are halfway through planting new trees to reforest the area.

Apparently, this reforestation disturbed the soil, as bellflowers began to emerge and bloom seemingly out of nowhere. Graeme McVittie, Senior Forestry Officer for the Exmoor National Park Authority, explained:

“We had no idea there would be this huge display this spring. The bluebells must have persisted under the fern for several hundred years since it last had tree cover.

“These are indicators of old-growth forests, so we’re kind of recreating the conditions of an old-growth forest.”

It is not uncommon for flowers to go dormant when faced with unfavorable growing conditions, but this usually occurs over much shorter periods of time, such as during the winter months when perennials go dormant until spring. But flowers are increasingly showing an underestimated ability to survive dormancy.

A previous study found that common garden flowers can remain dormant for at least twenty years and seeds can endure much longer periods, but we still have a lot to discover about plant dormancy. Bluebells probably held out as bulbs before reappearing once conditions were right. Jack Hunt, Assistant Forester at Exmoor, added:

“Since we started controlling ferns and planting trees, the suppressed bulbs have reactivated and flowering bluebells have carpeted the site.

So far around 8,000 trees have been planted, including locally grown sessile oaks, bringing the local environment closer to what it was before it was ruled by the medieval Britons. The trees will provide protection and shade for the bluebells, likely ensuring they can thrive for years and years.

“As our new trees grow, they will provide dappled shade and help maintain and diversify the soil flora of the new forest,” adds Hunt.