Topics Revisited

Chittlehamholt Chit-Chat

is a section for interesting articles (and entertainments)
about Devon and the local area
Articles always wanted! please e-mail Helen 

But here is a topic to revisit!


Aliens... Bluebells that is! by Charles Moberly
another in our series Tales From A Chittlehamholt Wood 
first published May 2016

At this time of year the bluebells are magnificent, a carpet of the deepest blue. English bluebells at their best.  But it is sad to think that, long-term, they are under threat. Why?

photo: Tony Smith
We were saddened to see more and more people growing Spanish bluebells in their gardens. The problem is cross-pollination. On our land, we have true English bluebells, no Spanish invaders (we grub them up and destroy them as soon as they appear) and a distressingly increasing amount of hybrids.

What’s the difference? Quite a lot, actually. It’s very easy to see the differences between Spanish bluebells and the native English ones.

Spanish are a lot paler, sky blue rather than royal blue

Spanish are much larger, both the strap-like leaves and the thicker stems

Spanish flowers hang evenly on all sides of the stems, 
unlike the English bluebells, where the flowers are on one side of the stem,
making the top bend over

from plantlife website

* Showing the difference in size between the leaves of native bluebell (left)
and Spanish bluebell (right) with a 50p for scale.
If you get down close, look at the colour of the anthers; 
these are cream in natives and a pale-blue in the Spanish.

Sniff the flowers!

You should be able to pick up a sweet aroma from the flowers of the native bluebell whilst those of the Spanish bluebell are scentless.

Hybrids are much more difficult to spot, but it is via hybridisation that the problem is insidiously spreading.  It will be a long time before pure Spanish bluebells reach our remotest woodlands, but hybridisation is already taking place.  This leads to paler, less beautiful bluebell woods.

What can you do? If you have Spanish bluebells in your garden, please destroy them by grubbing them up.  Don’t leave them on top of the compost heap, because bees will still visit the flowers and cross-pollination will occur.  If you still want bluebells in your garden, and why not, you can buy certified native seeds or bulbs from reputable wild plant suppliers.

Continue to enjoy our magnificent bluebell woods and think how they have developed over centuries before the Spanish imposter arrived.

Note from Helen: images marked * are from a very useful website where the difference between the bluebells are very clear:

Do you agree? 
Are the Spanish Bluebells just as pretty?
 Just as essential to bees and other insects?

Do feel free to have your say below!

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