Spanish bluebells

John Grimshaw
Wed, 07 May 2008 23:28:05 PDT
'Spanish bluebell' is a dirty 'word' here in the UK, where Hyacinthoides 
hispanicus is highly successful and hybridises with the native H. 
non-scriptus to form H. x massartiana. This is perceived by conservationists 
as being a threat to our native species and the issue has received a huge 
amount of media coverage and has sunk into public's perception, probably 
because of its inherent xenophobia ("Bloody foreigners coming over 'ere and 
pollinating our bluebells..."). It is extraordinary how often visitors to 
the garden here will say, on hearing that bluebells succeed the snowdrops, 
'I hope you don't have any Spanish ones', even though they would probably 
not be able to tell the difference. Of course we do - no 19th C garden would 
not have, and a multicoloured array of hybrids too - but we also have masses 
of unadulterated natives, and on the Colesbourne estate are woods currently 
blue by the acre with them. (If you have never seen an English bluebell wood 
it is one of the botanical sights of the world).

Personally, I think the issue is grossly overexaggerated - no doubt there 
are areas where hybrids outnumber natives, especially in urban areas, but it 
seems highly improbable that the dreaded hybrids are going to take over 
every wood in the country. There are plenty of further scare stories though: 
global warming will cause the bluebells to die out because the leaves come 
on the trees earlier & thus shade out the bluebells (perhaps the bluebells 
may come into growth earlier?) and wicked commercial bulb dealers will strip 
every wood in the country for gardeners to plant natives. This 'threat' was 
specifically legislated against in 1998, despite the fact that there must be 
thousands of acres of woods that could be harvested sustainably.

From a horticultural viewpoint, though, I can't imagine why anyone would 
risk their garden by deliberately planting  H. hispanicus - it really is an 
ineradicable thug.

John Grimshaw

Dr John M. Grimshaw
Sycamore Cottage
Nr Cheltenham
Gloucestershire GL53 9NP

Tel. 01242 870567

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