Botanic Gardens Conservation International
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Bluebells - under threat from warmer springs

The bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta, is a bulbous spring flowering plant that is popularly thought of as Britain's national flower.  Its fragrant bell-shaped flowers stand upright when they are in bud, but hang downwards, nodding in the breeze when fully open.  When growing en masse in woodlands it creates a beautiful haze of blue colour.

Although the bluebell is widespread in Britain, it is globally threatened, and British populations represent 25-49% of the world's total.  Even in Britain, the bluebell faces threats from large-scale unsustainable removal of bulbs for sale, destruction by picking and trampling, and hybridisation with non-native plant species, such as the Spanish bluebell.

The organisation Plantlife have identified the bluebell as a species which will struggle to maintain its range in the face of climate change.  During periods of cold weather, spring flowers such as bluebells have already started the process of growth by preparing leaves and flowers in underground bulbs in summer and autumn.  They are then able to grow in the cold of winter or early spring by using these resources stored in their bulb.  Other species -such as cow parsley or dandelions - are more temperature dependent, and require warm weather before they are able to germinate and grow.  With the warmer springs induced by climate change, bluebells will lose their 'early start' advantage, and be outcompeted by temperature sensitive plants that start growing earlier than in the past.