Native English Bluebells At Risk
The Bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air;
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit’s care.
- Emily Brontë
The native English bluebell is one of the most popular blooms come springtime in the UK. Emily Brontë immortalized the delicate and fragrant flower in her poem, “The Bluebell“. But at present hybrids threaten to take over the native flower’s habitat, putting the flower at risk after centuries of isolation.
BBC News shares that a full 50% of the total population of the native English bluebell worldwide is found in UK’s woodlands. It’s delicate beauty and magnificent carpets have been an inspiration to many for centuries. But in 1963, a crossbred hybrid between the native species and a Spanish variety was documented. Like many hybrids, it turned out to be more aggressive and fertile than the native species, easily spreading across the UK. Experts warn that the aggressive hybrid has the capacity to take over the native’s species preferred habitat.
It’s hard to tell the native species apart from its hybrid, which adds a potential difficulty to their identification and to subsequent control measures which may be used to preserve the original bluebell. Failure to protect the native English bluebell in its own homeland, where the majority of its population thrives, may ultimately cause the loss of the familiar and much-beloved flower.
Many flowering plants have succumbed to extinction, and many still are at risk. AudobonMagazine.org and eHow share lists of flowering plants gone extinct in the past. The Guardian reported in 2010 that as much as a quarter of all flowering plants are in danger of extinction. What’s more troubling is several of these species are disappearing even before scientists have discovered them.
One reason is a number of endemic species that thrived in highly isolated habitats for decades are now being overwhelmed by different factors, dying out before scientists and biologists have a chance to reach them.
Once a plant species is gone, it’s quite difficult to bring it back. Even if samples and seeds have been stored against such an eventuality, there’s no guarantee that the species will thrive and survive. Scientists are trying out different approaches to protect plant species from extinction: storing seed samples, cloning disease survivors, and severe protection measures.
A team of researchers in Russia recently made news earlier this year when they successfully revived a 30,000 year-old flowering plant trapped in Siberian permafrost. Fruit tissues from the flowering plant were cultured in a nutrient rich substance and later grew into seedlings, which the researchers transferred into regular soil. The success of the team’s work may help present and future conservation efforts.
Breakthroughs like these are important to aid efforts in preserving the existing flora we still have. For every plant species lost, something else becomes out of our reach forever. It may be a potential cure to cancer, a valuable chemical compound, or in the case of the native English bluebell, a piece of history and culture. Preserving native and endemic plant species not only contribute to the world’s riches of flora, but affects things as intangible as culture and sense of identity.
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