Bluebell walks at Osterley
This year you can discover the bluebells at Osterley by joining one of our bluebell walks. We sat down with Ben Griffiths, one of our rangers, to find out more.
What types of bluebells do we have here?
Good question, and not one that’s as easy to answer as you might think. There are three types of bluebells in the UK. Our native bluebell, Hyacinthoides non scripta, is native to Western Europe. The second species we have in the UK is Spanish Bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica. This is native to Spain and Portugal but it was introduced to the UK centuries ago as a garden plant.
Both of these flowers hybridise and produce a fertile hybrid, Hyacinthoides x massartiana. This has become a point of concern for many botanists and conservationists. The fear is that over time we’ll have more and more hybrids and fewer and fewer of our native bluebells.
Although it’s very easy to tell the difference between Spanish and our native species of bluebell the hybrid is harder to identify as it has features of both. It’s getting to the stage where it’s becoming difficult to tell the difference between our native species and the hybrids. Which does make working out how many species we have at Osterley difficult.
We definitely have two species, and possibly have all three species here at Osterley.
What areas do they grow in and why?
At Osterley they grow mostly around the long walk and the great meadow (especially the copses in the great meadow).
The ground in those areas is relatively undisturbed. For example the ground in the Great Meadow has never been ploughed up. Many other areas of the park are intensively farmed which is of course no good for bluebells. Bluebells have a strong association with woodlands. Many of the places at Osterley where bluebells grow in the greatest profusion are at least partly shaded.
This association with woodlands is a lot weaker the further west you go in the UK. I’ve seen bluebells growing in coastal grassland in Wales and Cornwall and half way up a mountain in Cumbria, without a tree in sight. Even in London bluebells aren’t necessarily restricted to woodlands.
What work do we do to look after them?
They tend to do pretty well on their own. In the winter time we use a special deck on the lawnmower to cut back the banks of brambles that would otherwise spread out and swamp the bluebells. In the hazel copses where the mower can’t get we cut back the brambles by hand.
Increased footfall around the long walk by the play trail has led to some bluebells being trampled. It’s not such a huge problem but it might be something we have to do something about in future years.
What is your favourite fact about bluebells?
I have two. The UK and Ireland hold over half of the world’s English bluebell population, and in the past the starchy stalks of bluebells were used to make glue.
Our bluebell walks run on 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13 May at 1pm.