In a Vase on Monday. Spanish Interlopers.

Because of repeated glaciations our tiny island has a relatively poor number of native wild flowers compared with the rest of Europe. But we do  have more than a quarter of the world’s bluebell woods and what a glory they are. Kate at Thegardenbarnhouse has written a lovely post about her local bluebell woods. Do have a look.  The native bluebell is an unmistakable sight. Dainty and lightly fragrant; a woodland of these beauties is one of the joys of spring. Here is a wood near where I live.

But our bluebell woods are under threat from the invasive Spanish bluebells which were introduced into the country by Victorian gardeners. The trouble is that if these are grown near native bluebells they crossbreed and produce fertile hybrids. These are far more vigorous than our natives and like the grey squirrel, are a great threat to our native beauties. It has been found that one in six of our broadleaved woodlands contains hybrids.

Hyacinthoides hispanica

Hyacinthoides hispanica

I worry about my garden being overrun with Spanish bluebells, but they are very difficult to eradicate. As I am three or four miles from the nearest bluebell woods, I hope that they will not be a threat. And in their own way they are very pretty.  I have tried repeatedly to remove them from this bed in the front garden but still they flourish. In fact they are everywhere.


The flowers of the native bluebell are deeper blue, with curved back tips and they are on one side of the stalk. They smell sweet and have cream pollen. The first photo shows the native bluebell. A nice deep colour and bent stem with flowers one side.

Hycanthoides non-scripta

Hycanthoides non-scripta

Spanish bluebells have broader leaves. The flowers are chunkier and not so delicate. They are conical with straight stems.  The flowers are paler and all round the stem. They are not fragrant and have blue pollen.

Hyacinthoides hispanica

Hyacinthoides hispanica

Hybrids are a bit more difficult to identify. But the native Hyacinthoides non-scripta is quite distinctive.

I can’t let the bluebell season go by without filling a vase with blue. When I was a child we use to go into the woods and gather great bunches of bluebells to bring home. We shudder at such vandalism now. At least the Spanish interlopers are useful for vases and each flower picked is one less to seed around. So here is my Vase on Monday.

Cathy at Ramblinginthegarden hosts this meme. This week is a special one, as she  is showing us how she did the flowers for her daughter’s wedding bouquet and  the buttonholes. Congratulations Cathy, on making such a beautiful contribution to your daughter’s special day. All the work, forward thinking and preparation really paid off. You did a wonderful job.

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56 Responses to In a Vase on Monday. Spanish Interlopers.

  1. I have always loved your bluebells….and so much more so as they will not grow for me…and even the Spanish invaders don’t last long here….but I oh and ah when I see your natives in their native woods. I hope one day to see them in person….I will feel like I am in heaven!

  2. gardenfancyblog says:

    Chloris, thanks for identifying the difference between English bluebells and the Spanish kind. I just planted some hispanica bulbs for the first time last fall in a shady area and they are coming up — but I live in America, so I’m not worried about displacing a native species by doing so. The hispanica are widely grown in the Midwest and treasured for their beauty, even if they do seed around. But your description of the differences between the two kinds is very clear and well-illustrated. And I’m glad you have such a good excuse to cut as many of the Spanish bluebells as you can for bouquets — simply beautiful! Best, -Beth

  3. Christina says:

    Your childhood memories of bunches of bluebells echo my own happy memories; happy at least for most occasions but there was one time when the person who looked after the woods came and told us it was illegal to pick them (even at that time) and he took and treasured flowers from us and tore the bunches in half and then dropped them on the ground. I was very upset and also thought that he was rather mean as they weren’t going to be able to seed around any way. Still I suppose it was a lesson learned. I’d love to have bluebells for a vase. We did manage to see the bluebell wood near my MIL but it was very dull and photography was difficult.

  4. susurrus says:

    My small garden is completely overrun by the Spanish ones too, yet I haven’t the heart to pull them up. They smother out perennials too!

    • Chloris says:

      That is the trouble with them, they get everywhere and are really difficult to get rid of. At least when they die down your garden gets back to normal. They are like celandines, only later.

  5. Cathy says:

    BLUE pollen? Really?! Must check that out with the few interlopers that have arrived here… I am generous picking my wild garlic blooms for the same reason – less to seed around! I thought I was quite diligent with removing them last year before they set seed but clearly I wasn’t! Thanks for sharing your detailed bluebell information and for your kind words – I really enjoyed the challenge of YD’s flowers, all parts of it

    • Chloris says:

      Do you use the wild garlic for cooking? Oh no, of course not, I forgot the Golfer doesn’t like garlic. They are invasive, like all alliums, but very pretty.

      • Cathy says:

        It doesn’t leave the garlic ‘bad breath’ though so I try to convince him it won’t effect him like he says real garlic does and I shall slip it into cooking one of these days and see if he notices… Need to be more diligent on flowerhead removal though 😉

  6. AnnetteM says:

    Lovely to have the differences so clearly explained. Thanks. I think we decided last year that mine were a cross, but I will look more closely now I have a few more differences to identify them with. They are just beginning to come out.

    • Chloris says:

      I remember talking about this with you last year Annette. And you thought then that yours are probably hybrids.

      • AnnetteM says:

        Yes, I remember that too, but I am now not so sure. If mine weren’t getting more pink I would say they are far more like the native ones. The flowers are on one side, the stems bend and the pollen is white. I don’t remember talking about the pollen last year, so that was really interesting.

  7. Anca Tîrcă says:

    Interesting to find out the stories of these bluebells.

  8. Annette says:

    I envy you a little for those fab bluebell woods. This year though I stumbled upon cushions of Italian bluebells (Hyacinthoides italica) in a valley nearby and thought they’re rather charming. Not as sturdy as the Spanish ones and not as delicate as the true ones, probably a good mix. This year I was thrilled to see bluebells coming up in odd places and think I must thank the ants for that. Luckily they flower quickly after being sown.

  9. I enjoyed reading this so much and thank you for the kind mention. I think there’s lots to be said for the interlopers that are already well established in the garden, they look beautiful in your vase.

  10. Your native bluebells ARE prettier than those of Spanish origin, which are the only ones I’m personally familiar with. Since my garden became sunnier with the removal of 2 trees and the thinning of others, even the few Spanish bluebells I had seem to have disappeared. That’s a pity as they certainly are wonderful in a vase. Thanks for sharing yours!

  11. We have some native wildflowers here, but nothing like the Bluebell woods you describe. They seem like a fairy tale to me, Snow White or somebody (The Knights of the Round Table?) should be in there! Very interesting and enjoyable post, Thank you.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Amy. But not Snow White, She was German, one of Grimm’s Fairy Tales which I always think are very grim, not suitable for children at all. Weird dwarfs and a wicked stepmother trying to poison you! And we read that to children.No, my bluebell woods should have Odin and maybe the odd Druid..

  12. pbmgarden says:

    I can see why you’re concerned to protect the native bluebells–lovely and delicate. The vase of Spanish ones are delightful and I adore that white vase.

  13. mrsdaffodil says:

    Your post is instructive. Most of the gardeners I know are currently busy weeding out what they call “bluebells”. I’ve been suspicious that these are all Spanish bluebells and your article confirms my suspicions. Last fall I planted bulbs purchased as “Scilla nutans,” which is apparently a synonym for Hycanthoides non-scripta. I will have to follow your example and pick vases full of the other sort to stop them throwing off seeds.

  14. They are all so beautiful. Darn, I wish we didn’t have to worry about non-native, invasive plants. Life would be so much easier, and gardening would be much more straightforward. I’m still fighting (and probably always will be) several invasives that just keep coming back. I can’t let them take over the garden!

    • Chloris says:

      It is odd too how some rare beauties in one garden can be invasive in another. Here the Victorians have a lot to answer for as they introduced such horrors as Japanese Knotweed, Rhododendron ponticum, Rose Bay Willow herb and Spanish bluebells as garden flowers. These are all menacing our native flora now.

  15. Brian Skeys says:

    A very informative post, it would be awful to lose our native blue bells. I do like your green vase.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Brian. The green glass vase is one of a pair I bought for sweet peas. They will probably stay in the cupboard this year as the mice have eaten all my sweet peas..

  16. Sam says:

    I think I have a mix in my garden – there are definitely some delicate, nodding native bluebells but there are also the chunkier hybrid ones. I try to pick the chunkier ones but I think I’m onto a losing battle. I’ll keep trying though!

  17. I do rather like the spanish interlopers, but then I see a close-up of our native bluebell and think there is actually no comparison. Your hybrid vase to lovely, so keep cutting them!

    • Chloris says:

      There is no comparison when you see them together Allison. I am losing the battle in my garden I’m afraid. The Spanish ones are everywhere.

  18. Alain says:

    Here the English bluebell is not hardy but the Spanish one is. So we only have the Spanish bluebell. I think even these might be borderline as they grow quite well but have never increased. I planted some 10 years ago and I still have the same number. It is fascinating how plants behave differently in different places.

    • Chloris says:

      I didn’t know that the English bluebell is not completely hardy. Here it takes anything the winter throws at it and comes up smiling.
      Indeed it is a lack of understanding of this different behaviour of plants, that lead to so many invasive alien flora menacing the native flora everywhere. I suppose we gardeners have to bear the responsibility. But how dull our gardens would be if we only grew native flora.

  19. We have native bluebells here and every year, despite thinking that I have dug up all the Spanish bluebells, they still rear their pretty heads in the field. Yesterday my daughter went into the field to cut all the Spanish bluebells. We are blessed with several vases of them around the house. The scent is divine. I will be out and about next week digging them all up. Next year the house will be filled with the scent of Spanish bluebells again despite all of my efforts. I might not win this battle, but at least we will always have a scented, flower-filled house in May.

    • Chloris says:

      Yes they are great for vases and keep for ages. The flowers start smelling rank though after a while .Keep on with the good work Sarah. I have been doing the same in a little wood near here where some idiot planted Spanish ones without understanding the difference. He thought a bluebell was a bluebell.I know who he is and have given him a piece of my mind.

  20. Julie says:

    It may be my monitor, but cant help but wonder if your Spanish Bluebell is a hybrid, the anthers are cream and the tips of some of the bells are curved. The Woodland Trust say the pollen is blue on a Spanish Bluebell. Its sad they have the ability to hybridise. They do look good in your vase though.

    • Chloris says:

      You could well be right Julie. They could all be hybrids for all I know. They have all probably been here for years hybridising away. But the ones in the front garden look like Spanish bluebells.

  21. snowbird says:

    The Spanish thugs are pretty, and as you say, less to seed around when picked. They are impossible to get rid of, I’ve dug whole borders out and still they come back! I have a strange hybrid going on in the front garden, where there were natives now I have natives with blue pollen….xxx

  22. Cathy says:

    I love bluebells, and your pictures remind me of gathering armfuls of them as a child too, mostly to find they had wilted beyond repair by the time we got home! A shame the Spanish ones are so vigorous. Let’s just hope the natives prevail for a while longer. 🙂

  23. The Spanish Bluebells make a beautiful vase, even if they are not completely welcome in the woods.

  24. Julie says:

    I do love your bluebell vase Chloris – I have never cut bluebells – that is surprising even to me! I have a mix of spanish and english and hybridised ones here. I have tried to remove the swainish ones without success so I now let them do their own thing. They are all pretty and, like you, I am not aware of a bluebell wood close by so they are not doing any harm.

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Julie. This is one flower that I don’t mind picking in abundance for a vase. By the way, do you mean Spanish or Swinish? I think that is a good name for the Spanish hybrids, thugs that they are.

  25. Hmmm… I didn’t know the differences in how the two types of bluebells look. I have never seen a wild meadow of bluebells except in pictures from the UK. They look so beautiful. The first blue in my garden is the blue scilla.

  26. Chloris says:

    Well if you ever get the chance Cynthia, an English bluebell wood is a magical sight. The early scilla siberica is a pretty sight in winter along with the chionodoxas.

  27. Peter/Outlaw says:

    A pretty arrangement. It’s good to know that these are good for something. I’ve also tried getting rid of this dreaded, albeit pretty, plant in my beds to no avail.

  28. annamadeit says:

    I didn’t know the difference, and much appreciated your explanation. The Spanish bells are invasive over here too, and hard to remove. Somehow they manage to go awfully deep… I do the same thing you do, and pick them for bouquets so they can’t go to seed. They sure make a great arrangement – very pretty! 🙂

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