Last week a volunteer at a local nature reserve proudly showed me the bluebells they'd planted a couple of years ago. "Ah, lovely" I said, whilst thinking "Hmmm, that bluebell looks suspiciously like a Spanish bluebell..."
So I snapped this photo, came back to my desk and started doing some research. I visited the NHM Bluebell ID site and my fears were confirmed - the volunteers had planted Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) rather than our native bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). You might ask, What's wrong with that?
Well, one problem is that the introduced Spanish bluebell readily hybridises with our native bluebell, which means that they interbreed with each other to create a third species, the Hybrid bluebell (Hyacinthoides massartiana). Hybridisation leads to a change in the genes of the plant, and this can affect the ability of the plant to survive. Another problem is that the Spanish bluebell competes with the native bluebells for light and space, and some scientists are worried that the Spanish species may be a better competitor and squeeze out the native species. This is bad news, as the UK contains over half the worlds population of native bluebell (H. non-scripta), and it is a protected species.
Scientists want to know more about the distribution of the different species of bluebells in the UK. The Natural History Museum are currently running a bluebell survey which you can take part in, and there is also useful information on the Plantlife website.