The bluebell, popularly thought of as Britain's national flower (4), is a bulbous spring flowering plant (5). When growing en masse in woodlands it creates a dazzling display of brilliant blue, which is not only a great wild flower phenomenon, but also a British speciality (4). The fragrant bell-shaped flowers stand upright when they are in bud, but hang downwards, nodding in the breeze when fully open; they may be violet-blue, white or even pink on rare occasions, and have cream-coloured anthers. They are arranged in clusters of 4-16 on flower spikes (known as racemes), which have drooping tips (2). The narrow leaves are deep green, and grow to 45 cm in length (2). The unusual specific part of the scientific name 'non-scripta' means 'unlettered', and distinguishes this species from the hyacinth, which in Greek mythology sprang from the blood of the prince Hyacinthus as he died; in his grief at this tragedy, the God Apollo wrote 'AIAI' ('alas') on the petals of this flower (4).
The bluebell has a wide distribution throughout Britain, but is absent from Orkney and Shetland (2); its range appears to be fairly stable (6). It is also found in western Europe from central Spain as far north as the Netherlands, and has become naturalised in parts of central Europe (2).
This species is found in deciduous woodlands, hedgrows, meadows, under bracken in upland areas, and on cliffs; it also occurs as a garden escape (6). The presence of the species in hedgerows and under bracken on pastures may indicate that the land was once covered in woodland (4).
Wild bluebells are protected in Britain with respect to sale under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Classified as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species of conservation concern, although not a priority species (3).
A number of populations have been damaged by large-scale commercial removal of bulbs for sale, despite the species being listed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 (6). This has been particularly problematic in East Anglia, where the species is less common (4). Furthermore, picking and trampling are also problems in some areas, and hybridisation (cross-breeding) with non-native species is also a cause for concern. Plantlife have identified the bluebell as one of a number of plant species that will struggle in the face of global warming (5).
Although widespread in Britain, the bluebell is globally threatened. Populations in the UK represent 25-49% of the world population (5). It is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) Species of Conservation Concern, but not a priority species (3). The species has been included in a number of Local BAPs; action taken includes the planting of a large number of bluebell bulbs. An example of this has taken place in Edinburgh, where 50,000 native bulbs were planted in 1998 alone (5).
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