Wednesday 22 April 2015

Earth Day and the Big Bluebell Question

Seeing as today is Earth Day - a global event to raise awareness of ecological issues that takes place on 22 April each year - I thought I'd talk about my bluebells.

That might sound a pretty trivial gardening question rather than a serious environmental concern, but in fact my bluebells are part of a big problem.

In England there are two species of bluebell - native, British bluebells and non-native Spanish bluebells. Cross-breeding between the two means British bluebells are dying out. Bluebells have grown in my garden ever since I was a child, and I am pretty sure that at one time they were the nice, native type. Over the years, I guess they have become hybridised.

You might be asking how you spot the difference. According to the Woodland Trust website, here's how you tell:

Native bluebells (hyacinthoides non-scripta) have:
  • Cream-white colour pollen
  • Deep violet-blue petals. A genetic mutation occasionally causes white flowers
  • Flower stem droops or nods to one side
  • Almost all the 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 bluebells (hyacinthoides hispanica) have:
  • Green or blue pollen
  • Pale to mid-blue petals, 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
Looking at that list you can see that mine (pictured above) are definitely not entirely English. But what do I do?  I could rip them all out of the ground and destroy them, but that would deprive bees of flowers that I can see they love. It would also deprive me of one of my favourite garden flowers - although that should be a small consideration when balanced against the health of the environment.

Even if I went out and bought some native bluebell seeds to sow, over a few years I think they would quickly become hybridised again - there are just too many hybrid bluebells already in the urban area in which I live.

I will pop out today and buy some bee, bird and butterfly friendly flower seeds to plant as part of my Earth Day action, but they may not be bluebells. And the question remains, should my hybrid bluebells stay or should they go?

Links and previous related posts


Vivienne said...

I'd say let them stay.if they are becoming hybrid by them selves then mother nature is doing it. Everything changes, nothing stays the same. We are all hybrids, changing and evolving. As you say if you planted British ones they would still change and if the insects like them then they are doing an important job xx

Badwitch said...

Vivienne, Thanks - my instinct is to agree with you.

Unknown said...

they should stay,giver mother nature some credit she might know what shes doing,immigrants are great for any genepool