Tell the difference between native and non-native bluebell
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A walk in a bluebell wood in spring is one of nature's most extraordinary sights. The British bluebell is one of the nations' best-loved flowers and a species we're proud of. But can we be sure that they really are native British bluebells?
There is more than one species of bluebell growing in the UK. There's:
- our native British bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)
- the introduced, garden-escaped Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica)
- and the hybrid bluebell that results when the two species cross-breed (Hyacinthoides x massartiana).
Hybrid bluebells are now relatively widespread throughout the UK (something we're trying to understand more deeply with our Big Bluebell Watch). The fear is that is that as hybridisation becomes even more widespread, the gene pool of our pure, native bluebell will become increasingly diluted, even resulting in their loss completely.
So how do you tell which type of bluebell is which? Unfortunately it's not that straightforward. The characteristics you might use to tell which is which are not unique to each species. Instead they share many of the same characteristics. But there are a few pointers that will help you, so here are our top features to look out for.
Native Hyacinthoides non-scripta
- Pollen cream-white colour
- Deep violet-blue. But you may also occasionally find white or even pale pink flowers
- Flower stems may droop or nod to one side
- Almost all flowers are on one side of the stem
- Flowers are a narrow, straight-sided bell with parallel sides
- Petal tips are reflexed (curled back)
- Flowers have a strong, sweet scent
Hybrid bluebells Hyacinthoides x massartiana
- Pollen green or blue (but may also be white or cream)
- Pale to mid-blue, often also white or pink
- Flower stem is stiff and upright, but in some cases can droop or nod
- Flowers maybe wide open and cone-shaped or bell-shaped
- Flowers may be scented or unscented
Can you tell native and hybrid bluebells apart?
Why are non-native bluebells a threat?
Hybrid and Spanish bluebells are threat to our native species because they readily cross-breed resulting in the fertile hybrid H. x massartiana.
This is a problem because crossbreeding dilutes the unique characteristics of our native bluebell, changing future generations forever.
Find out more about our Big Bluebell Watch.
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