Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) is a vigorous, bulbous perennial that bears sturdy stems topped with clusters of bell-shaped flowers in spring above large clumps of strap-shaped leaves. The flowers are usually pale blue in colour (occasionally pink or white), without any fragrance. Spanish bluebell is hardy, robust and easy to grow, but it can be invasive, spreading both by seed and by bulb, and is difficult to get rid of.

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Spanish bluebell originates from Spain, Portugal, and North Africa and was introduced to the UK as a garden plant in the 17th century, though it soon 'escaped' and was first recorded growing in in the wild in 1909. It now poses a significant threat to our native English bluebell, as it both out-competes and hybridises with our native species.

What’s the difference between Spanish and English bluebells?

The native English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) is famous for carpeting woodlands with millions of violet-blue sweetly scented flowers in early spring. It grows in ancient woodlands and hedge banks, and the UK has around half of the world's population. The flowers are a valuable food source for bees, butterflies, and other insects.

English bluebell flowers are mostly deep violet-blue in colour, occasionally white. In shape the blooms are tubular, curling back at the mouth, and are borne on just one side of an arching stem up to 30cm high. Green strap-shaped leaves are a maximum of 1.5cm wide.

Spanish bluebell flowers are unscented, much larger, shorter, and more open than English bluebells, borne all around an upright flower stem up to 45cm high. Wide strap-shaped green leaves are up to 3cm wide.

Spanish bluebells cross-breed with English bluebells. The resulting hybrids are the most commonly grown bluebell in British gardens. They look similar to our native bluebell but have straight stems, rather than arched stems. Also their petals are lighter in colour (sometimes pink) and their leaves are thicker. The hybrids are fertile and are therefore able to reproduce themselves, and can also make further hybrids with English bluebells.

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How to grow and care for Spanish bluebells

Avoid growing Spanish bluebells if you live near a woodland where the native English bluebell is growing, to prevent hybridisation. Also bear in mind that Spanish bluebells are extremely invasive and may outgrow their welcome.

Plant dormant bulbs in autumn in partial shade where their invasive tendencies won’t harm nearby plants. Deadhead after flowering to avoid seeding. Wear gloves as the bulbs are toxic and any plant sap sap may cause skin irritations.


Where to grow Spanish bluebells

Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, Getty Images
Spanish bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica, Getty Images

Grow in a wide range of soils, apart from waterlogged ground. Plant between or under large trees or shrubs, clear of other low-growing plants as Spanish bluebells can develop into big clumps. Spanish bluebell does grow in grass, but the large leaves take many weeks to die back and create bare patches by smothering the surrounding grass.


How to plant Spanish bluebells

Plant bulbs in September and October, 8cm deep and in small natural-looking clumps, allowing 5cm between bulbs within each clump.


How to care for Spanish bluebells

Pink Spanish bluebell flowers
Pink Spanish bluebell flowers

After flowering has finished, remove the faded flower heads, then allow leaves to die back completely before removing by gently pulling up.


How to propagate Spanish bluebells

Dig up the bulbs while dormant, in late summer, to divide into smaller clumps and replant.


How to get rid of Spanish bluebells

Spanish bluebell flowers
Spanish bluebell flowers

Spanish bluebell is a deep-rooting and prolific growing plant that is difficult to get rid of once established. Dig up and dispose of the bulbs in Council garden waste collections, not on the compost heap and definitely not by dumping outside the garden as they will simply regrow and exacerbate the problem, potentially putting local native bluebell populations at risk.

You may need to dig up the bulbs for several years in a row, to get them all out. If you are in the process of removing them and others continue to grow, cut off the flower heads before the blooms open to prevent cross-pollination with English bluebells.

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Pests and diseases of Spanish bluebells

Spanish bluebells are not subject to any pests or diseases. Clumps of foliage are popular with snails, which may not be desirable if growing susceptible plants nearby.

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