Tell the difference between native and non-native bluebell

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Blue and white native bluebells

Blue and white native bluebells at Ashenbank Wood but can you tell them apart from non-natives that are widespread in our woodland? (Photo: WTML)

There are two species of bluebell found in the UK. Native or British bluebell and non-native Spanish bluebell. Cross-breeding between the two species means you may spot flowers which combine traits from both.

The easiest way to tell the difference between native and non-native bluebells is to look at the colour of the pollen. If it is creamy-white then the bluebell is native. If it is any other colour such as pale green or blue then it's not native.

These other characteristics will also help you to tell the difference.

Native Hyacinthoides non-scripta

native bluebells
Native bluebells
  • Pollen cream-white colour
  • Deep violet-blue. A genetic mutation occasionally causes white flowers
  • Flower stem droops or nods distinctly to one side
  • Almost all flowers are on one side of the stem, hanging down to one side
  • Flowers are a narrow, straight-sided bell with parallel sides
  • Petal tips are reflexed (curl back)
  • Flowers have a strong, sweet scent

Spanish Hyacinthoides hispanica 

Spanish bluebells
Spanish bluebells
  • Pollen green or blue
  • Pale to mid-blue, often also white or pink
  • Flower stem is stiff and upright
  • Flowers are usually all the way round the stem, with the flowers sticking out
  • Flowers are a wide open, almost cone shaped bell
  • Petal tips flare slightly outwards
  • Flowers have little or no scent at all

Can you tell native and Spanish bluebells apart?

Take our bluebell ID quiz and test you knowledge

Why are non-native bluebells a threat?

Spanish bluebell is a threat to our native species because they readily cross-breed resulting in the fertile hybrid Hyacinthoides hispanica x non-scripta.

This is a problem because crossbreeding dilutes the unique characteristics of our native Bluebell, changing future generations forever.

Most bluebells in urban areas are now thought to be hybrids and a study by Plantlife found that one in six broadleaved woodlands contained the hybrid or Spanish bluebell.

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