Primroses, Lesser Celandine and the Wood Anemones have all but gone. The Snowdrop and Crocus are a distant memory and many of the summer flowers are in full bloom.
My first Bluebell of 2014, this picture was taken on the 13th. of April.
They are one of the first plants that I see as their tiny shoots break through the leaf litter.
What happens next takes a little bit of time but there are lots of other flowers to look at, the Bluebells signal the start of it.
Hyacinthoides non-scripta is deeply scented, it is lovely to walk in a Bluebell wood but our woodlands are under threat.
The threat to our Native Bluebell:
About half of all of the worlds Hyacithoides non-scripta are here in the UK. It is essentially a British flower and so we have a responsibility to preserve it.
The problem is the Spanish Bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica. The two species have been isolated for about 8000 years but in the last 200 years gardeners have been introducing the Spanish variant and seriously, we are in danger of losing our flowers.
Usually when we talk about the threat of an invasive species we are talking about them encroaching on habitat and crowding our own species out. The threat posed by the Spanish Bluebell is different, It can pollinate native Bluebells to produce a very different hybrid species which can go on to pollinate more flowers. Once hybrids get into the woods the process is irreversible.
The Native Bluebell will hybridise with the Spanish Bluebell and the result is a hybrid called Hyacinthoides massartiana. The Hybrid is fertile and more hardy than the Native Bluebell and it is less fussy about it’s habitat. The hybrid is now much more common than genuine Spanish Bluebells but it shares many of the characteristics and it is very hard to impossible to positively separate the species and sometimes requires DNA analysis.
This is either Spanish or possibly a hybrid.
The Hybrid shares characteristics with both parents but the characteristics from the Spanish side include a strong stem, so that the flowers are held upright and do not droop to one side, an open bell shaped flower and blue to green pollen, (once the pollen is spent the anthers will appear white). The leaves are broader than the native Bluebell and the Spanish Bluebell is unscented and Hybrids have a very weak scent.
Please Note: The majority of Hyacinthoides non-sripta bulbs that are offered for sale are actually hybrids. You need a license to trade in Bluebell bulbs and there are very few licensed growers.
If you want to buy native Bluebell bulbs then be sure to buy them from a name that you can trust. The licensed grower mentioned in the Guardian article above doesn’t sell to the public.
I would trust The Royal Horticultural Society rather than my local market trader although he is a very nice man and I would certainly buy my Petunias from him and pretty much everything else.
There is no reason to ever plant shop bought bulbs in the wild.
How to identify Hyacinthoides non-scripta:
The easiest way to identify a native Bluebell is to look at the anthers of newly opened flowers. The pollen will be creamy white. It is important to look at new flowers, those at the top of the flower spike, as once the pollen is spent they all have white anthers.
Other features to look for, the flower is long and tubular rather than bell shaped like the Spanish variety. The petals are strongly curled back at the tips and the stem is quite weak causing the flower head to droop to one side (but notice that the flowers do not all emerge on the same side)
Except when it is white.
I have read a bit about how rare and unusual it is to find white Bluebells and I can only say that has not been my experience. I have regularly found them in woods all around Southern England and I can usually expect to find more than one in a given wood.
They are not that uncommon and they stand out, they are also quite beautiful.
They also grow from seed but again that is a slow process, it takes about five years for the seed to produce a flower.
Species: Hyacinthoides non-scripta