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Native and Hybrid Bluebells

There is a great show of Bluebells in woodlands at the moment and a good place to see the carpet of blue on a woodland floor is in Hopeward Wood.

All the Bluebells in this wood that I have examined are the native species and their presence indicates this is a woodland that has been in this location for a long time. Native Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) can be identified by the drooping flowers down one side of the flower stem, the white to cream coloured anthers bearing the pollen, and the very strongly reflexed petal tips.

These flowers, along with Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis perennis) shown below, also abundant in Hopeward Wood, are among the species regarded as Ancient Woodland Indicators (AWI), suggesting that woodland has existed on this site for a very long time and probably predates the estate planning and woodland planting commissioned by the 9th Earl of Moray in the late 1700s.

Crow Wood also has extensive carpets of Native Bluebells, but they are much deeper in the wood and harder to see from the path.

Bathing House Wood also has several patches of Native Bluebells, both in the woodland and in the area of the gun emplacements.

But this wood also has a large number of the bigger and more vigorous growing Hybrid Bluebell (Hyacinthoides x massartiana) shown below. These have the flowers arranged around the flower stem, and are more upright. The leaves are also bigger and broader, forming very dense clumps. Unlike the Native Bluebell the Hybrid has very little scent. The pollen carrying anthers in the Hybrid are bluer in colour and the petal tips are not so strongly reflexed.

The Hybrid Bluebell is a cross between Native and Spanish Bluebells and has been widely grown as a garden plant. Those in Bathing House Wood may be escapes due to dumping of garden waste containing unwanted plants, or could have been deliberately planted by householders in the area. This seems especially likely alongside the path leading down into the wood from the west.

There are also several clumps of Hybrid Bluebells just outside Hopeward Wood, in the grass area not far from the Heritage Viewpoint. The presence of the Hybrid Bluebells, so close to these special populations of Native Bluebell, may be a cause for concern as it is suspected by some that the continuing spread of Hybrid Bluebells may pose a risk to the Native Bluebell by both competition and further hybridisation. This view is not held by all, and research is ongoing to try and establish what the risk may be. However, as the Hybrid Bluebell was first recorded from the wild in 1963, but is now common and widely distributed, the threat may be real.

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