How to identify English bluebells

Credit: Alamy

The woodlands in my area are carpeted with native English bluebells. Somewhat unsure of the pedigree of a handful of bulbs that I have been given (of apparently rather special “white‑flowered English bluebells”), I am keeping them in pots for the time being. Are there such things as English white bluebells – or are these invading Spaniards?

Margaret Brinkley, Welshpool

A white English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) is a rarity. When reading around this subject I came across the blog of a naturalist who has proved (certainly to my satisfaction) that the odd white bluebell (scented, with typically drooping flowers) in a sea of native blues can be just a colour-freak, of “pure” strain. However, most of those that you see (especially in gardens) are hybrids, their Englishness diluted by cross-pollination with vigorous Spanish bluebells, carrying blue, white or pink flowers.

Depending on their degree of impurity, “English” hybrids carry various Spanish characteristics: leaves are broader; stems straighter; bells are scentless, more upright and flared, rather than downward-facing and tubular (and the blues are less blue). Townies can afford to be pragmatic (probably having already been gatecrashed) but since you say you have local “pure” woodlands, you might want to be cautious about who you allow in to your bluebell garden party.

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