Our woodlands are home to over 50% of the world's population of Hyacinthoides non-scripta - native bluebells, but do you know how to distinquish them from the imported Hyacinthoides hispanica - Spanish bluebell?
The Spanish ones are far more vigorous than the native plants, which places our bluebells at risk. The Spanish flowers hybridise with them which then produce fertile plants showing a whole range of mixed features from each species. Overtime, hybridisation could change the genetic makeup of our native species, diluting its characteristics, weakening it and potentially evolving it into something else. The Spanish bluebell, was introduced into the UK by the Victorians as a garden plant, but it then escaped into the wild - it was first noted as growing 'over the garden wall' in 1909. It is likely that the escape occurred due to carefree disposal of bulbs and also as a result of pollination. Today, the Spanish bluebell can be found alongside our native bluebell in woodlands and along woodland edges, as well as on roadsides and in gardens. At a glance, native and Spanish bluebells could easily be dismissed as being the same, but a closer look reveals several recognisable differences between them.
Native bluebells - Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Deep blue, occasionally white, narrow tubular bell flowers with tips curled back.
Flowers on one side of stem.
Distinctly drooping stem which is coloured purple at the top.
Cream coloured pollen anthers to stamens.
A sweet scent.
Long narrow strap shaped leaves.
Spanish bluebells - Hyacinthoides hispanica
Flowers all around the stem.
Conical open bell flowers.
Straight pale green stems.
Blue coloured pollen anthers to stamens.
long broad strap shaped leaves.
This is a huge problem that the National Trust, and various other organisations are grappling with.
Oh dear Rosemary, I tried I really did, many years ago and planted English bluebell bulbs. Sadly they didn't do well and the leaves ended up flat on the ground! I still have a few clumps but admit I moved on to the Spanish ones - only blue, not the pink and white ones - and they grow so well. Tall and sturdy for several weeks, they have self-propagated slowly so I don't have that feeling of invasiveness, and they even survived a severe night time nibble this spring (deer or rabbits?) when the green leaves first appeared - which was upsetting to me of course!ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing the 'real deal' - there's nothing more lovely in England than a walk, or a picnic, in a bluebell wood!
Have a good weekend dear.
Dear Mary - I am happy that you have Spanish bluebells - they are a pretty flower and I actually have nothing against them, but here it is a different matter, as they do endanger our native ones. As I mentioned over half of the world's bluebells are only to be found here - they are rare and do not grow well throughout the rest of the world, so we are it's stronghold and we must protect it.Delete
Oh this is a timely post...a volunteeer Bluebell came up in the grassy area next to where I park my car! It's definitely the Spanish variety!ReplyDelete
Yes, I am sure that you are right Barbara. Our native bluebell grows happily in very few other countries. It is only found in a few other spots in northern Europe.Delete
With any luck I shall be on the trail of some of these little beauties next week. I'm told that part of the reason why English bluebells do so poorly in gardens is that walking on the ground above the bulbs can damage them; they need to grow somewhere that's completely undisturbed. I shall be strictly keeping to the paths when I'm looking for them.ReplyDelete
Enjoy your day out in Hitch Wood John.Delete
I understand that our native bluebells also thrive best in partial shade beneath deciduous trees as they do in our woods.
Beautiful pictures of a lovely bulb flower!
Love the true English bluebell more due to its deeper color and drooping bells.
Dear Mariette - I certainly don't dislike the Spanish bluebells, but they are a serious threat here to our our native bluebells. My heart also belongs to our British bluebells.Delete
A timely post indeed and a reminder for us of happy times in bluebell woods where the carpets of deep blue and heady scent were just simply amazing.
Nature is fighting so many battles at present, we can only hope that She survives in all her beauty and wonder!
Dear Jane & Lance - from the beginning of this Pandemic I have had the strange feeling that may be we are witnessing Gaia’s revenge. There is no doubt that countries around the world are finally beginning to change their tune as pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen everywhere over the past year.Delete
I do hope that both of you are keeping well - I read somewhere that Hungary has now managed to secure a million doses of vaccine beginning next week. Take care.
Hello Rosemary, So many native plants have evolved to take advantage of niche environments and micro-climates. They cannot compete with super-robust invaders, yet their loss is continually putting at risk the genetic diversity in the world. Moreover, many of those rare plants have a delicate beauty and unique characteristics, all the more appreciated because of the necessity to seek out and protect them.ReplyDelete
Hello Jim - many of the problems here relate back to Victorian adventurers and plant seekers bringing exotic plant specimens back home. They have left us a legacy of some very invasive plants and trees which are impossible to keep under control or eradicate.Delete
Dear Rosemary, I'm so glad that you wrote this post. Our bluebells are definitely the Spanish variety and it's interesting to learn the differences, beyond the lack of scent. The blue ones are dominant here and spread slowly so I'm happy to have them in my garden. I'm glad to be able to pick them, too, as I believe it's unadvised to pick wild bluebells in the UK. I hope the species survives as they are unique and ever so beautiful.ReplyDelete
Dear Lorrie - once you know what to look for it is very easy to spot the differences between the two. You can pick bluebells here i.e from your garden or from land where the owner says you can, but people don't. When I was a young girl people used to pick arms full of them, but wouldn't dream of doing so today. It is however, unlawful to damage them or dig them up.Delete
I think it is just the Spanish I have seen here.ReplyDelete
They only grow in northern Europe, but most are growing here in the UK.Delete
This problem in one form or another, is replicated the world over. I have vivid memories, and very pleasant ones, of walking in British woodlands carpeted by bluebells, of which form I don't know, of course, but it was sensory overload at its finest.ReplyDelete
You would have walked in and seen a genuine bluebell wood David - there are no woods here that are filled with Spanish bluebells, but a few have escaped to join ours. Most are rapidly removed when spotted. Our Bluebell woods have been here for at least 400 years and are an indicator that you are walking in ancient woodland.Delete
The wild bluebells I knew as a kid on the Canadian prairies doesn't seem to have been either of these varieties.ReplyDelete
I think the wild bluebells that you have on the prairies are a completely different species Debra - they belong to the campanula family, and the ones that grow for you are called Campanula rotundifolia. They are the main bluebell that grow wild in Scotland too.Delete
The native ones are much nicer than the Spanish ones, and let's hope the Spanish one don't take over.ReplyDelete
It is an ongoing fight to keep them at bay Margaret.Delete
we are lucky to have some ancient woodland here in Surrey and lots of native bluebells but unfortunately the Spanish variety are prevalent in some places - but not in those precious woods thank goodness. It is my favourite time of year as I love to walk there, the smell is intoxicating... we live near Outwood/the Harewood National Trust Estate and get to see the beauty of it all. Your pictures are spectacular.ReplyDelete
Every year I must walk in a bluebell wood, I feel incomplete if I don't. How many chances do we have in our lifetime to see bluebells? We must grab them all.Delete
I've always had a mass of Spanish bluebells front and back growing in my garden since I arrived here, planted by the previous owners, and they make a wonderful visual display each spring but I'm miles away from any woodland so they will not spread anywhere else from here. I like the delicate singular harebells as well found growing wild on grassy open slopes as they grow in small groups on bare country hillsides, different again from the under wood blanket cover UK version. I have noticed most parks here now have seeded native wildflower strips but they appear to need to be sown fresh each year as weeds soon smother them over the following years.ReplyDelete
I always associate those pretty harebells with Scotland - they are almost translucent. They are a different species from bluebells, they belong to the campanula family.Delete
Those flipping Victorians did so much damage.ReplyDelete
It is easy to name many plants that they brought here which are now causing us so many problems.Delete
They stripped a lot of medieval paintings from the walls of churches too. Arrogant beyond belief.Delete
Our bluebells are much prettier. I have some in my garden, they're not flowering yet, I think they are native but I will check them out. I had a close look at them in Bluebell wood on our walk earlier and they are the native ones.ReplyDelete
The ones in your garden may be hybrids and contain bits of one another, it is a big problem. The woods are basically our native ones and have been there for hundreds of years. The interlopers tend to be only on the edge of the woods. The first thing to check is the colour of the anthers on the stamens, and the scent, both of which are big giveaways.Delete
Can't tell yet what kind of bluebells I have in my garden. The leaves are up but no flowers. What a happy sight it must be to walk through your bluebell woods. Thank you for sharing.
Dear Gina - our native bluebells find it difficult to flourish elsewhere - but they can be found in a few other countries but only in northern Europe. The quickest way to check them is to look at the anthers on the stamens if they are blue and have no scent then they are Spanish bluebells. Our native bluebells have a very strong scent, not too dissimilar to a hyacinth.Delete
Perfectly lovely! I never get tired of this landscape. As I look at the bluebells in my garden, I thought of you, Rosemary, and the woods of bluebells posted on your blog every year. My deep blue flowers are all around a stem, so they are Spanish bluebells. The trees are beautiful, too. Are they Hornbeams?. When one species is introduced to new place, it tends to become invasive to native ones. I hope genuine English Bluebells will thrive. Thank you again for this post. Take care.ReplyDelete
Dear Yoko - as far as I am aware our bluebells only grow here and in one or two other places in northern Europe. They have been here for hundreds of years as they flourish and thrive in our ancient forests.Delete
The trees are Beech Trees, the leaves are a lovely chartreuse/luminous green when they first appear which contrast beautifully with the bluebells.