I See English And Spanish Bluebells At War

Spanish Bluebells Close Up
Spanish Bluebells Close Up

By the door of our building there are raised flower beds surrounded by low brick walls, and in one of these a small bunch of Spanish bluebells has sprung up.

I tried photographing the bluebells – intent on adding the photographs to the Flowers section of our Quillcards Ecards – against the plants and shrubs in the flower bed but the bluebells were lost in the confusion of shapes and colors.

It only goes to show how good the eye is at isolating the detail it wants to see.

Even setting the lens with a shallow depth of field, the background was a confusing tangle. So because the camera sees all without discrimination, I placed a large sheet of card behind the bluebells to isolate them from the plants behind.

The Spanish Armada
If you live in England and have any interest in wild flowers, you will have heard and read about the invasion of the Spanish bluebell. It was introduced into this country on purpose but it has run wild and it hybridizes with the English or ‘common’ bluebell, which is now recognized as a threatened species.

When one walks through a bluebell wood, with a carpet of bluebells covering every inch, it is hard to believe that a battle for survival is raging in the undergrowth. However, that is what is happening.

Bluebells spread by seed, so their future is bound up with pollination by bees, about which you might want to look at these facts about bees being in peril.

When I pass the Spanish bluebells growing in the flower bed outside our building, I look at them with mixed feelings. They are very pretty, in shades of pale blue and pink, but I cannot help seeing them as a clear and present danger to the common bluebells of ‘this sceptred isle’.

Not that there is much chance of any seed from the bluebells in this flower bed traveling to the woods.

However, who knows? Maybe a seed or two could become trapped in some crack in the sole of a shoe and be carried 20 miles to Middleton Woods to run rampaging its way through the English bluebells there.

Oh, what a sad irony to be an unwitting agent for the invader.

How To Tell The Difference
You can distinguish the Spanish bluebell from the English bluebell in several ways.

First, the flowers of the English bluebell only grow on one side of the stem. This causes the stems to lean over in a graceful arc.

In contrast, the flowers of the Spanish bluebell grow all around the stem, so the plant grows more upright.

Second, there is the color. English bluebells are a dark, vivid blue. The Spanish bluebells are a pale blue. There are pink variations too, particularly in the cultivated varieties.

Third, there is the smell. Walking in a bluebell wood one smells a fleeting, sweet perfume. In contrast, the Spanish bluebell is said to be almost without smell.

I Bought A Bunch Of Bluebells
It is illegal to pick bluebells from the woods, but occasionally one sees the cultivated variety of the Spanish bluebell for sale in flower shops.

I bought a bunch of cut flowers – cultivated Spanish bluebells that had been grown in England – from the city center market in Leeds.

Spanish Bluebells In A Jug - A Quillcards Ecard
Spanish Bluebells In A Jug - A Quillcards Ecard

They smelled very different from the smell of English bluebells in the woods. They smell, how shall I put it… well, they do not have the best of smells. Still, they look pretty in the little milk jug.

Technical Details
I shot these two photographs with a Nikon D700 with Nikon 50mm f1.8 lens. I shot the close-up shot of the bluebells at ISO 200, 1/60 second, at f5.6. The photograph is a crop from the full frame. The shot of the bluebells in the milk jug was shot at ISO 800, 1/80 second, at f5.0.

The Nikon D700 can shoot subjects like these without loss of quality at ISO 1600, so ISO 800 at which I shot the ‘milk jug’ presents no problem.

This sceptered isle
The reference to ‘this sceptered isle’ comes from the following:

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

Richard II, Act 2 scene 1
William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

Quillcards Ecards
We will be adding this photograph to the ecards in our Flowers section within the next week or so. Also, we are a little bit behind with the India ecards, and will have those on the site in the next few days.

Spanish Bluebells In A Little Milk Jug
Spanish Bluebells In A Little Milk Jug
  1. I so enjoyed you lovely article and the lovely photos of the bluebells as well.

    I shall not look at bluebells in the woods here in England the same way in the future. They must be protected because they are part of the heritage of this sceptred isle, as you so nicely mentioned.

    • David Bennett

      I am glad you enjoyed the article, and I agree that bluebells are something special.

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