by Derek Morrison
Bluebells; First sign of spring
The mood it rises, as blackbirds sing
The woods are carpeted in glorious blue
On shaded verges their heads poke through
Bluebells; a quintessential British bloom
Nature’s art, dispelling winter’s gloom.
There’s something that’s not quite ‘right’
The blue is ‘wrong’, it is too bright
And the stems are much too straight
Undermining the traditional state
Our ancestors joined that garden club
Spread its seed through wood and shrub
So a new migrant form set the trend
For with British natives it would blend
Making vigorous hybrids from their seed
But stoking anxiety about indigenous breed
Some gardeners viewed this migrant flower
As turning good British soil most sour
And so they wanted to pull them out
So ‘purer’ Bluebells were free to sprout.
But such radical changes to our woods
Could now impact on our other goods
So the people were asked to speak
A small majority then showed their pique
Scorn on this foreign flower they pour
Wanting British bluebells again to soar
Woods again carpeted in ‘right’ tone of blue
So things would look like they used to do.
But the lighter Bluebell now has deep roots
So each year towards the sun it shoots
And as some gardeners pull out the stem
Other gardeners plant them back again
The hybrid Bluebell also has now great grip
For it grows on soil the natives skip
And so its absence would create a void
Where native Bluebells are not employed.
The Bluebell’s future is now unclear
And many gardeners suppress their fear
About the promised new Bluebell spring
And flourishing summers that will bring
God, he smiles as he hears this plan
While briefing Nature to bypass Man.
[To listen to this verse select below]
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This allegory emerged from reading about how the common bluebell is metamorphosing as a result of exposure to its continental European relative introduced by the Victorians. Decisions and actions of generations ago impacting upon the present and future. A desire to return to the apparent certainties and securities of a nostalgic past where time has polished away memories of the cold wet rough bits and splinters, or the, at times, dangerous obstacles to progress.
Below I offer a minor botanical summary in order to enhance understanding of the intended allegory of the verse.
Firstly, in Scotland the plant usually identified as a bluebell isn’t the same as that in other parts of the UK (image 1).
In the rest of the UK it is the common bluebell (alias the English bluebell, British bluebell, wild hyacinth) or in its scientific identity, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, that is the stereotypical springtime image (image 2).
Hyacinthoides non-scripta, has deep violet-blue scented spring flower with a ‘shepherd-crook’ shape producing white pollen that is widely found throughout western parts of Atlantic Europe but the highest density in the world can be found in the British Isles (where it is protected). An indicator species of ancient woodland but also found on verges and in gardens. Classified as a threatened species because it easily hybridises with Hyacinthoides hispanica (the Spanish bluebell) – an introduced low-scent species in the UK which has straighter stems and bluish pollen (image 3).
The hybrid form is called Hyacinthoides × massartiana (image 4).
The hybrid tends to invade common bluebell territories and eventually comes to replace the indigenous form – or, from another perspective, evolves to become the ‘current’ indigenous form (as in we are all the products of migrant Romans, Vikings, Normans, Angles, Saxons, Celts etc). I walk in two woods near my home that are separated by a road. In one wood is the common bluebell. On the other side of the road is the paler hybrid form. Several years ago the hybrid form did not exist. I suspect that most people walking in the spring woods see only ‘bluebells’. Who knows we may yet see the emergence of a Bluebell Independence Party (BLIP) who will attempt to return things to what some perceive to be ‘normal’. As time-machines are (at the time of writing) not yet possible and so it follows that efforts to return back to a previous imagined ‘ideal’ state can only ever really guarantee one thing, i.e. consequences. As to the nature of these consequences? Who knows.
Those wishing a less allegorical consideration of the potential implications of Brexit for the UK should find What Would ‘No Deal’ Mean For Brexit Britain? (Inquiry, BBC World Service, 4 February 2017) most informative.