The natural world: In search of the Spanish bluebell

I'm in the Iberian peninsula hunting for bluebells. My quest is to understand more about the invasive Spanish variety, which is threatening our own bluebell widely said to be Britain's favourite flower by hybridising with it.

The task has been made all the more pleasurable as these bluebells grow in some exquisite places. The downside is that one rarely has time to stop and stare, or to soak up the atmosphere. All that matters is to find the plants, make the measurements, drive to the next dot on the map and when it gets dark hope to find an inexpensive bed, preferably next to a good restaurant.

Dim recollections linger from previous visits: the friendliness of local botanists; spectacular buildings such as the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela; the dizzying chasm that splits the town of Ronda. But as a biologist it's the wildlife that fills my head and captivates me and so here I am again, back in Ja*province, a corner of Spain which, for reasons we still don't fully understand, supports a wealth of plants found nowhere else on earth.

Leaving behind the stunning vistas from the local parador, we drive deeper into the wilderness. The landscape is populated by the rare relatives of plants familiar to British gardeners: violets, daffodils, peonies... and bluebells. But these are very special bluebells which grow only here. Hyacinthoides reverchonii have small, starry-blue flowers tinged attractively with violet.

As we wind ever higher on this remote forested road, other treasures become apparent. At the highest point the wooded pass below Pico Cabañas which lies at 2,026m I'm puzzled by the appearance of the pines, sheltered below the long white hump of its bare, icy summit. They look curiously silvered, as if wrapped in gossamer. I realise that their needles are covered in frost.

Huge drifts of snow allow us to scramble over the tall wire fence erected to keep the goats from grazing the last few plants of a Geranium and an Aquilegia which grow only here. The tiny upturned face of a hoop petticoat daffodil ( Narcissus hedraeanthus) is just emerging from the snow.

On an earlier visit, they carpeted the ground. Perhaps this time we were just too early for the full floral spectacle; reason enough to want to come back again.



Dr Fred Rumsey is the plants enquiries officer for the Identification and Advisory Service at the Natural History Museum's Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity. The newly opened Centre hosts examples of the Museum's UK Collections and an extensive natural history library. Visitors or wildlife groups can challenge Fred and his colleagues with their unusual wildlife finds. nhm.ac.uk

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week