Few floral sights in late spring can better a mass of bluebells carpeting a woodland floor.
Bluebell woodland in Kew's natural area (Image: Tony Hall)
With the cooler temperatures earlier this year, the bluebells here at Kew are a good two to three weeks later this year then they are normally, and still looking really good. The British native bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, has been protected since 1998 by schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act which makes it illegal to collect plants or seeds in the wild. Hyacinthoides non-scripta are relatively common in the UK but not worldwide. The UK has up to 50% of the world's population.
Our native bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta (Image; Tony Hall)
Our bluebell wood here at Kew is situated in the south-west corner of the gardens (map reference B4 - Map of Kew Gardens) and, with the bluebells now in full flower, is definitely a sight to behold! Especially with the dappled sunlight shining through the early canopy of broad leaved trees, the habitat they usually favour.
The native bluebell is under threat from the Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, which is a lovely plant in itself but, unfortunately, it hybridises with our native, creating the vigorous hybrid Hyacinthoides x massartiana, which also sets viable seed, thus increasing its spread.
It's fairly easy to distinguish between the different species as they have very distinct characteristics.
The native or common bluebells have a drooping flower spike with the flowers distinctly on one side. The petals are rolled back, it has pale cream-coloured anthers, and has a strong, sweet fragrance, especially on warm days. The flowers are deep violet-blue though also, though more rarely, come in white and pink forms.
Flower spike of our native bluebell with pale-cream anthers and rolled back petals (Images: Tony Hall)
The Spanish bluebell, by contrast, has a very upright flower spike, with flowers arranged on all sides of the stem, pointing outwards. The flowers are also usually a lighter blue than our native bluebell, with a more open bell-shaped flower. They are unscented and, significantly, they have blue anthers.
Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispancia showing blue anthers (Image: Tony Hall)
White and pink forms of Spanish bluebell (Images: Tony Hall)
The hybrid form, although it shares characteristics with both species, has a drooping flower spike as in the native, but with a more open flower - like the Spanish species. It is only slightly scented and has greeny-blue anthers.
Hybrid bluebell, Hyacinthoides x massartiana, with greeny-blue anthers (Image: Tony Hall)
Carpet of bluebells in Kew's natural areas (Image: Tony Hall)
With the bank holiday almost upon us, it's a great time to visit and see this wonderful display before it disappears for another year!
- Tony -
- Garden tickets - Adults £14.50, concessions £12.50, kids 16 and under get in FREE (detailed ticket prices)
- Opening times - the Gardens open daily at 9.30am (detailed opening times)
- Location - Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Rd, Richmond, London, Surrey TW9 3AB (how to find us)
- Garden map - Print out our handy Garden map (pdf)
- Download the Kew Gardens App - available on iTunes and Google Play. Find out more about the app and its features.
The Arboretum team blog includes stories about individual plants growing at Kew, information about the growing techniques that we use, and reports on our field trips to see woody plants growing in their natural habitats. You can also find out how we look after Kew's renowned world plant collections.
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