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Page last updated at 10:10 GMT, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 11:10 UK
Norfolk's bluebells in blossom
The Norfolk bluebell is blossoming all around the county, but its journey from sprout to flower started back in January

The humble bluebell reaches full blossom in Norfolk during April and May 2009, where millions of the flowers burst into life.

Chris Skinner, a nature enthusiast from Caistor St Edmund, has seen around 75 - 80 million blossom on his farm two miles south of Norwich.

"It's one of the most fantastic sights to see in the English countryside," said Chris.

Chris believes Norfolk's bluebell peak has come earlier than in 2008.

"I think the peak flowering time will be in about a week's time [starting 26 April, 2009], so it looks like a whole week to ten days earlier than in 2008," said Chris.

"There's more bluebells on my farm now than people in the entire population of the UK. There's a 'sea of blue' as far as the eye can see," he added.

Along with purple orchids dotted between the bluebells, Chris can also boast many spring wild cherries growing in his woodland.

January sprouting

The increased level of daylight that Norfolk experienced over the first few months of 2009 provided optimum conditions for the bluebell flourish.

"Before Christmas there was less daylight, but now it is the other way around. From Monday, 26 January to Monday, 2 February, 2009, we got 20 minutes extra daylight," said Chris.

"The week following, it really started to gather speed - we got 25 minutes extra daylight and the week of Monday, 16 February, 2009, we got 40 minutes extra daylight.

"That affected a lot of things in the countryside, as many plants responded to the amount of daylight they got."

Stored energy

Bluebells stored their energy to grow for the 2009 season in the spring of 2008.

"In the woodland, things started to move because plants got their food supply stored up ready to use from the word go," said Chris.

"This applies particularly to bluebells - they stored energy from last spring in the form of a bulb and that has all the nutrients the plant needs.

"As long as there was water available and the ground didn't freeze, bluebells started the growing process just after Christmas time.

"The rootlets came out of the bulbs, the shoots came up and the bluebell seeds germinated under the leaf litter in the woodland."

The high temperature of the leaf litter in the Norfolk woodland provided an ideal climate for the plant.

"The leaves kept the temperature that little bit higher - it's a good insulator. As the leaves broke down, they also produced a tiny amount of heat, which the bulbs responded to," said Chris.

"That's why bluebells flourish under canopies of trees," he added.

Blooming in time

In order for the bluebells to bloom in time, they have their work cut out.

"They need to get a shift on, because once the trees come into leaf, they form quite a dense canopy and stop the light getting onto the woodland floor," said Chris.

Bluebell wood
The number of bluebells in an area can be quite easily measured

"In order for bluebells to build up enough energy to flower in 2010, they need to get most of their lifecycle completed before the canopy becomes too dense.

"Even in January, they're up above the ground and beginning to photosynthesise to gain energy from the sun, before coming to leaf.

"They start to produce the flowering stalks in March and before the end of April, as we've seen, they're in full flower."

Norfolk's bluebells

Norfolk is one of the best places in the United Kingdom for people to spot the drooping flower.

"We have fabulous bluebell woods in Norfolk and nowhere else in the world do bluebells grow as well as they do in the United Kingdom," said Chris.

Counting the amount of bluebells in a field may seem an impossible task, but Chris believes it is a trick that many Norfolk farmers will be able to replicate.

"I have about 75 - 80 million individual blooms at my farm over 31 acres. It's quite easy to count, because farmers are good at counting cereals," he said.

"Farmers need to know their plant density, so we have a special squared meter ruler called a quadrat. You can simply pop that on the ground and count the plants per square meter and multiply that with the acres of land," he added.

A Spring bloom

We can expect bluebells to look their best in April, going through into May.

"The last week of April or the first week in May is a great time to catch the Norfolk bluebell. After that, the flowers gradually die away and point down after gaining all the energy from the sun they can absorb," said Chris.

"The seed pods then go completely the opposite way and face upwards. The petals dry and form paper cups, which open at the top.

"If you look inside the cups, you will see about five tiny bluebell seeds and they will stay there until there's a high wind or the pheasants peck them out!

"When the wind blows, it will scatter the seed and you've got the next generation of bluebells."



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