After the white alliums yesterday it seemed only right that I mention good old bluebells next. Few flowers capture the imagination quite like bluebells and people rightly head for the woods to enjoy the display made by these locally abundant flowers. The poor English bluebell has been messed around a lot as far as its botanical name is concerned and is now Hyacinthoides non-scripta. In Scotland they are called wild hyacinths and bluebells is the name used for Campanula rotundifolia, the harebell in England.
Lots of attention has been given to the threat by the evil, benefit-scrounging Spanish bluebell to the good, hard-working English bluebell. The threat is that the English and Spanish interbreed – just as readily as English teenagers on the Costa Brava.
But Spanish bluebells have been cultivated in the UK and Ireland for centuries, with no problem at all. It is just that those hardworking English gardeners, having dug up excess bulbs, threw them over their fences and let them spread into the wild bluebell’s location. It is not the poor plant’s fault.
The two plants are easy to tell apart. English bluebells (and Irish ones) have narrow leaves, white pollen, slender flowers, blooms that hang from a curved stem, only on one side, and dark blue flowers. The Spanish imposters are more robust with bread leaves, sturdy, upright flower scapes with flowers all around them, broad bells and blue pollen. Of course the hybrid offspring will be intermediate.
The bluebell has a rather small natural distribution, occurring wild only in the northwest of Europe, from the Atlantic coasts of Spain north through France, Belgium and the Netherlands and up to the UK and Ireland. Some estimates suggest that as much as 50% of the world’s wild bluebells are in the British Isles and Ireland.
Bluebells are considered a sign of ancient woodlands and they are most common on slightly acid soils but they are adaptable to conditions in the garden and often spread rapidly by stolons and seed.