The native Bluebell: a threatened species we ought to protect
A wildflower native to Ireland and found throughout western Europe, Bluebells are currently carpeting my local woodland with their striking little bell-shaped flowers. The Bluebell native to Ireland (Hyacintoides non-scripta, the ‘English Bluebell’) easily cross-pollinates with ornamental species like the Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), which makes it particularly vulnerable and threatens its genetic integrity. I have Bluebells growing in my garden, but discovered that unfortunately, it’s the hybrid version of the Bluebell that is growing there rather than the native one. I’ll introduce a way of differentiating them in a minute 🧐
A member of the Asparagaceae family, Bluebells are perennial flowers that grow from underground bulbs in the same location year after year from early April to June. They are found in deciduous woodland, hedge banks, grassland and on bracken covered slopes.
The flowers stand upright when in bud and hang downwards when fully opened. They are tubular, with petals curved only at the end, and arranged in 4 to 15 clusters. Bluebells have narrow, deep green, glossy leaves that grow to about 40cm high, and the flowers come in a range of colours from the familiar lavender-blue to white, and even pink on rare occasions. It is worth noting that the native bluebell flowers curl back at the petal tips whilst those of the Spanish and hybrid bluebells are more spread out.
The Bluebell native to Ireland hangs downwards when fully opened
The flowers of the native Bluebell grow mostly on one side of the stem and have cream anthers (the part that holds the pollen) and cream pollen. The hybrid Bluebell (Hyacinthoides x massartiana) is a cross-pollination of the introduced Spanish Bluebell and the native Bluebell. Its flowers and those of the Spanish Bluebell are not in a one-sided spike, and the anthers and pollen are blue.
Do you have Bluebells growing where you are? Do you know if they are the native species or not? Do let me know in the comments! Xx
📷 by Michael Maggs, Oast House Archive, Karen Andrews