Britain’s native daffodil threatened by garden centre hybrids

They are a symbol of spring and of the Great British love affair with gardening itself, but gardeners are being warned that their attachment to the?daffodil?could effectively spell its end – at least in its true form.

The native British strain of?daffodil, which inspired Wordsworth’s poem as well as references in Shakespeare, is becoming a rarity even in the wild due to crosspollination with ever more flamboyant strains of the flower bought from garden centres and nurseries, experts say.

It follows warnings that even the drifts of?daffodils?Wordsworth would have seen in the Lake District are being bred out by cross-pollination with larger, hardier varieties planted nearby over generations.

Now English Heritage, guardian of some of the UK’s most important historic gardens, is taking action by ordering a mass autumn planting campaign including 25,000 bulbs of the native strains of?daffodil?and bluebells at some of its sites.

The native “English” bluebell is also under threat because of the spread of larger but less fragrant Spanish variety.

As well as planting the two flowers at its properties, the organisation is handing out bulbs to visitors to take home to plant in their own gardens to help promote the native varieties.

It is not, however, calling for an end to planting of hybrid varieties of?daffodil?or other flowers.

Indeed some of the 11 English Heritage properties taking part in the initiative are themselves effectively monuments to the history of horticultural experimentation, most notably Down House in Kent, better known as the home of Charles Darwin.

John Watkins, head of gardens and landscapes at English Heritage, said: “Native?daffodilsand bluebells, as well as the historic cultivated varieties, are a vital part of our horticultural and cultural heritage, inspiring gardeners and poets alike.

“Our native species and historic cultivars are increasingly under threat from cross-pollination with nonnative species and hybrids that flower at the same time.

“The resulting offspring will be hybrids and likely to outperform and out-compete the native species. Historic gardens and landscapes are often the last refuge for ancient cultivars and native species.

“Our major spring bulb planting campaign – across some of the most important historic gardens in England – will help arrest that national decline and ensure that the?daffodil celebrated by Wordsworth over 200 years ago can still be enjoyed by visitors today and in the future.”

Lovers of native wild flowers have become increasingly vocal in their criticism of the practice of planting clumps of garden varieties of?daffodil?on roadside verges and elsewhere, condemning it as nothing but horticultural “bling”.

In 2010 one conservationist, Dr Andy Tasker, the former chief executive of the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, launched a one-man campaign against the practice, likening efforts to brighten up road verges and picnic spots with modern strains of?daffodil?as “like painting lipstick on the Mona Lisa”.

Spanish bluebells are thought to have been introduced to Britain in the late 17th century but did not become widely established until Victorian times when they were first embraced by gardeners.

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