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How to tell the difference between a native bluebell and a Spanish bluebell

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Posted: Monday 18th April 2016 by bbowtblog

Large white butterfly on bluebellsLarge white butterfly on bluebells. Photo by Richard Bowler

Don't confuse our iconic woodland spring flower with its Spanish cousin. Discover the difference between these two varieties of bluebell, and why our native bluebell is under threat.

Suzie Hunt, Digital Communications OfficerWritten by Suzie Hunt


Some of our woodland nature reserves are starting to put on their spectacular spring displays of carpets of bluebells.

The UK is an international stronghold for bluebells, with more than a quarter of the world's population found here. More than that, taking a walk through a sweet-smelling carpet of nodding bluebells is one of the definitive experiences of an English spring, and one that I look forward to every year.

Sadly, our native bluebell is losing ground to an insidious competitor: the Spanish bluebell. Introduced by the Victorians as a garden plant, the Spanish bluebell has made it 'over the garden wall' and out into the wild. Here, it crossbreeds with our native plants and produces fertile hybrids with a mix of characteristics.

You can use the information below to help you know what kind of bluebell you are looking at. If you see any of the characteristics of the Spanish bluebell then you are looking at a hybrid.   

Native bluebell

English bluebells. Photo by Philip Precey.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta

  • Distinctive 'droop' like the top of a shepherd's crook
  • Sweet, cool perfume
  • Narrow bell-shaped flowers with rolled back tips
  • Creamy white pollen

Spanish bluebell

Spanish bluebells. Photo by Richard Burkmar

Hyacinthoides hispanica

  • Upright stems
  • No scent
  • Conical bell-shaped flowers with open tips
  • Blue pollen

How you can help

  • Avoid planting Spanish bluebells in your garden. Although pretty, they are aggressive and can spread into nearby woodland where they breed with our native bluebell.
  • Support BBOWT from just £5 a month. We manage many spectacular bluebell woodlands and your support allows us to undertake essential work such as coppicing, scrub-cutting and ride maintenance which helps spring flowers, including our native bluebell, to thrive. 

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