Friday, May 16

Do you know your bluebells?

One memory of my childhood was going for walks with my grandad and his dog Rover and there being large drifts of bluebells and primroses in the hedgerows. Maybe this is why I have a special affection for both flowers. 

The scent of a woodland full of native bluebells is intoxicating but is the English bluebell destined to become just a thing of the past?
We hear much about alien  species of plants and animals invading our country and out competing our native wildlife. Some are introduced by humans and others arrived unaided. The Harlequin ladybird, New Zealand flatworm, Japanese knotweed, exotic crayfish, terrapins, grey squirrels, Himalayan balsam, Rhododendron ponticum are just a small number of examples.

Some are a problem as they outcompete native species, others prey on them and other just get on too well with the natives.

One example of the later problem is the Spanish bluebell. If you were lucky enough to be walking through a bluebell wood a hundred years ago it would certainly be carpeted with our own native bluebell. There were already alien bluebells occupying our shores or should I say gardens. These had been introduced some three hundred years ago. Gradually these Spanish migrants began to stray from the gardens in which they had been planted and found themselves rubbing shoulders (or more precisely pollen) with their English cousins. The liaison was so successful that a new species of hybrid bluebell was born. The hybrid was stronger growing and more vigorous then our native bluebell and gradually began to encroach into native bluebell woods.

The fear is that our native bluebell will gradually disappear under a sea of the more successful hybrids. As gardeners we are not helping matters by either knowingly or unknowingly plants hybrids.

So do you know your Spanish bluebells from your English ones?

English bluebells.
The flowers are very narrow, long bells. The tube of the bell is very straight curling back at the tip. The bells are arranged up on side of the stem and droop from the stem in a way similar to dicentra flowers. The anthers are a creamy white colour. The flowers tend to be a deeper blue only occasional producing white flowers. The leaves tend to be narrow.

They have the distinct bluebell scent which is lacking in the Spanish variety.
Spanish bluebells
The flower bells are wide (or fatter) and more open. The tips of the bell don’t curl back as much as those of the English bluebell. Bells tend to be arranged all around the stem making it more upright. The anthers are usually blue. The leaves are broader than those of the English bluebell.

Flowers can also be pink or white but are generally a paler blue.
Hybrids,
As you can no doubt guess can have a mixture of characteristics form both types. Some hybrids are almost impossible to distinguish from one of the parents.



37 comments:

  1. A really useful guide Sue. The Spanish ones remind me a little of hyacinths. Let's hope they don't take over. An English bluebell wood is a thing of beauty, it would be a shame if their character was changed.

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    1. I agree CJ a wood of English bluebells is magical.

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  2. I was thinking the same thing. They remind me of hyacinths. I wonder how closely related they are. What we call bluebells here in the US aren't even close to your plants.

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    1. It's strange isn't it Daphne how we use the same word to describe different things like some of our birds and then use a different word to describe the same thing like zucchini/courgette.Bluebells belong to the Hyacinthoides family which is an adjective that derives from the word hyacinth so you both have described it well.

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  3. I have never known about bluebells, thanks for this lesson.

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    1. I think they would quickly wilt in your climate, Endah.

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  4. It would be a shame if we walked in to a wood filled with bluebells and there was no scent, one good reason for wanting the English bluebell to survive. I think English bluebells are so much more prettier than their Spanish cousins too.

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    1. Some hybrids have some scent, Jo but nothing like the English bluebell. I love the deep blue carpets too which don't really translate in a photo.

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    2. Fairies are often portrayed with a bluebell hat aren't they, Diana?

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  6. I'm always disappointed when a Bluebell is nor blue! You see quite a lot of white and pale pink ones these days - very much like Hyacinths. I presume they are distantly related.

    The argument about "foreigners" squeezing out the native species is just the same as the political one about migrants from the EU etc!

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    1. Sort of cousins, Mark They are both sub species of the Asparagaceae family. have you noticed how much a bluebell in bud resembles an asparagus spear?

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  7. when we moved to our new house one of the first garden things we did was take out spanish bluebell bulbs.

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    1. Not an easy task Phyllis. We unwittingly planted some years ago and tried to remove them but some still pop up. We even have some on the plot which came from goodness knows where.

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  8. Very useful guide. After reading this I guess our native bluebells are Spanish bluebells. I've seen English bluebells only in garden flower pots.

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    1. They are very pretty Leanan - if only they didn't cross pollinate it wouldn't be a problem.

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  9. I love wild bluebells, Sue. Here we have another woodland variety of bluebell that can disappear as English specie. Thanks for information!

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    1. Is it similar to the English one Nadezda?

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  10. I definitely have English bluebells in my front garden.

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    1. I hope they stay that way, Jo

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  11. Thank you for pointing out the difference. Here we can only grow the Spanish one which, strangely enough, is more cold resistant than the English one.

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    1. That is strange, Alain. You would expect it to be the other way round wouldn't you?

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  12. good to know the difference Sue

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    1. Glad to be of service, David.

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  13. Unfortunately our predecessors introduced Spanish bluebells into our garden. I see many hybrids appearing and am trying to get rid of the interlopers but they are difficult to remove. I'd hate to think of English bluebells disappearing. Thankfully in the wooded areas the English still reign supreme!

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    1. I hope you manage to keep your English bluebell woods, You'll have to have word with the bees.

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  14. In answer to your question No! I don't know the difference and was only the other day thinking it was time I did! So thanks for the useful post Sue.
    Of course up here in Scotland, we tend to call the Campanula rotundifolia (Harebell) as the Scottish Bluebell.

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    1. Harebells are lovely delicate flowers, Angie - I never knew they were referred to as Scottish bluebells though.

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  15. Sorry, for me neither English nor Spanish bluebells is the REAL thing, bluebells for me is what here is known as Scottish Bluebells (Campanula rotundifolia) but of course in my country is known as Norwegian Bluebells – same thing :-)
    They are just lovely and grow wild everywhere in Norway, I wish I could have some in my garden but they are not exactly suitable for an inner-London Garden!

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    1. But you are in England Helene so the English bluebell reigns supreme :)

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  16. I've battled with the Spanish thugs for years, I had English bluebells once upon a time but they were driven out. It's almost impossible to weed out the Spanish ones. Great post Sue.xxx

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    1. You are right, Snowbird it is impossible

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  17. I too inherited Spanish bluebells, it is question of controlling them rather than eradicating them, but fortunately there don't seem to be any English bluebells nearby. Funnily enough, the Spanish ones are meant to be less invasive in the border than our natives, Noel Kingsbury even wrote an article recommending them!http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/howtogrow/3342191/How-to-grow-Spanish-bluebells.html

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    1. They seem to be pretty invasive don't they, Janet? I have tried planting English bluebells bought in the green and they just don't seem to take.

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  18. I planted 3 groups of english bluebells along the drainage ditch bank of my plots a few years ago. This years display of their flowers was excellent. Not a foreign bluebell in sight. The word hybrid, in most cases makes me cringe, unfortunately we have messed about with nature for far too long.

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    1. We seem to e getting lots of oil seed rape escaping into the countryside, Rooko - I wonder what sort of problem that will create for the future?

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