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The search is on for Britain’s bluebells

25 April 2006

The Natural History Museum is calling on the public to search for Britain's favourite wildflower, the bluebell.

Members of the public can record bluebell sightings from their local area into the Museum's web-based survey Exploring British Wildlife: Bluebells . Findings will be shown as a map giving a real-time picture of bluebell distribution across the UK.

Two bluebells and a hybrid

There are two bluebell species in the UK - the familiar native bluebell or wild hyacinth ( Hyacinthoides non-scripta ), and the cultivated Spanish bluebell ( Hyacinthoides hispanica ).

A recent survey by wild plant conservation charity Plantlife showed that our native species is cross-breeding with the cultivated bluebell producing a hybrid. Hybridisation alters a species genetic make up and may make it harder for them to survive.

Data from the Museum's survey will help us understand the evolution and relationship of the two species and the level of hybridisation between them.

Losing early growth advantage

Bluebells burst into colour in April, May and June in woodlands, hedgerows and other shady places.

This early growth and flowering gives bluebells a head start over later developing plants such as trees & shrubs, enabling them to make use of light & warmth before the canopy closes. However, warmer winters may mean they are losing their advantage as other plants start growing earlier.

'Changing climate conditions and hybridisation may change the British bluebell as we know it,' said Mark Spencer, Natural History Museum's British plant expert.

'By taking a closer look at this well-loved flower, everyone can help us build a clearer picture of the bluebell in Britain today.'

Find out more and join the search for bluebells at www.nhm.ac.uk/bluebells .

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