English bluebells are fragrant, beautiful, and loved by bees. They are native to the UK, but cross breeding with Spanish bluebells poses a threat. Moreover, planting Spanish bluebells in your garden or allowing them to spread into the wild is against the law, and carries a fine.
Here you'll find information about how to spot the difference between English bluebells and Spanish bluebells, how to get rid of Spanish bluebells, and further information about the law.
Bees love English bluebells - Hyacinthoides non-scripta – and so do I! The fragrance in the woods in May, and their lovely, delicate drooping heads, not to mention the sound of busy bees as they buzz from flower to flower, is something I look forward to every year.
However, I have become increasingly concerned by the appearance of Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) in my garden, and in the woods and along one of the country walks near where I live. I’m going to have to get my gardening boots on and start removing the Spanish bluebells from my garden!
didn't deliberately plant the Spanish bluebells - they hitched a lift
- I suspect - with some plants from a neighbour, and popped up in three places in my
garden (a lesson in that, I think!).
As for the few I have seen in the woods, I will contact the local warden responsible for the woods, in case the Spanish bluebells haven't been spotted yet.
am not against non-native species for the sake of it – it really depends on the
characteristics of the plant. Some
non-native plants provide valuable pollen and nectar for bees, (and it should be remembered that many fruit
and vegetables grown for humans – also are not native!). Unfortunately, however, the Spanish bluebell
is invasive, and it is cross breeding with the native English bluebell to the extent that there is real concern that Hyacinthoides
non-scripta could become extinct in the longer term.
But why should we care?
English bluebells have a more delicate appearance, with a slender, narrow bell-shaped flower than Spanish bluebells.
Spanish bluebells have a more open, 'star-like' shape than English bluebells.
the Spanish bluebell has broader, larger leaves than the English bluebell.
English bluebells: Lovely fragrance - some would describe it as cool and sweet, others may describe it as fresh and sweet. Anyway, it's very appealing (no wonder the bees love it!).
Spanish bluebells: No fragrance.
Anthers of Spanish bluebells carry blue pollen.
The anthers of the English bluebell carry pollen which is a pale, creamy colour.
Hybrids may have a combination of the above characteristics!
This means, you may, for example, come across specimens looking more like Spanish bluebells, but
- with a little scent and pale anthers and pollen;
- a drooping flower stem;
- petals curved upward at the tips.
If I found hybrids in my garden I would get rid of those too.
In the UK:
It is not an offence to have Spanish bluebells on your land (they were introduced to the UK by the Victorians).
So, the law is a little murky in one sense (probably in recognition of the fact that they can inadvertently end up in the garden - as was the case with me), but at the very least, for the sake of the native English bluebell, then if you find Spanish bluebells in your garden, please remove them as soon as possible. You'll need to be careful about how you dispose of them.
Never plant them intentionally.
Note that offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 can result in possible fines and prison sentences!According to the UK Government website:
Also, please note that it is an offence to remove the native wild bluebells from their habitats.
The most important thing is to dig into the ground and
remove both bulbs and runners as soon as possible. This is what I will have done, by the time this blog goes live!
Allow the plant material to dry out, and burn the waste.
Make sure the wastage (all remains of bulbs and runners) is fully burnt before adding the waste to a compost heap. do not allow any green matter to be added to the compost heap.
Do NOT simply remove them and put them in the compost heap - they are likely to survive. Do not allow plant waste to get into the wild.
Keep a careful look out the following year for any signs of plants popping up in case any bulbs or runners were missed, and take action again.
Eventually, you'll get rid of the plants.
Importantly, please help spread the word, and encourage other gardeners and conservationists to take action.
Be careful when purchasing bulbs from suppliers, and be sure that they have not been lifted from the wild, and that they are not hybrids.
(1) Prevent harmful weeds and invasive non-native plants spreading https://www.gov.uk/guidance/prevent-the-spread-of-harmful-invasive-and-non-native-plants
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