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May, 2017

In praise of the native bluebell

If you went down to the woods at the weekend you may have been lucky enough to be treated to a glorious sight at this time of year: swathes of English bluebells. Often seen in photographs typifying this time of year, nothing beats the real thing. We'd encourage everyone to find their nearest bluebell wood and get acquainted with this wonderful display of Ma Nature at her finest.

Sadly, our native bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, is under threat from the more vigorous Spanish variety, Hyacinthoides hispanica. All too frequently the non-native bluebell turns up in garden waste that is fly-tipped in our countryside resulting in cross-breeding with the true native bluebell and the dilution of its characteristics forever. And that's bad news for all of us because it is believed that almost half the world's population of bluebells grow here in the UK.

So how do you tell a native bluebell (below left) from the non-native variety (below right)? Thankfully, it's easy to spot the the native bluebell once you know what to look for:-
  • The pollen is a creamy white colour
  • The flower is a deep violet-blue (though a genetic mutation can occasionally result in a white bluebell)
  • It has a strong, sweet fragrance
  • The petal tips are curled back
  • The flowers are all on one side of the stem, causing the stem to droop to one side
The Spanish variety on the other hand is pretty much the complete opposite: little or no fragrance; stiff upright stem with pale to mid-blue flowers all round; petals are flared and the pollen is typically green or blue.



Bluebell woods are at their breath-taking best from now until the end of May. Visit the Woodland Trust's web site to find your nearest one and be sure to stick to the obvious well-trodden paths to avoid destroying the habitat of this beautiful little bulb.