Abstract Vernalization, photoperiod and the relatively poorly defined earliness per se (eps ) genes regulate flowering in plants. We report here the validation of a major eps quantitative trait locus (QTL) located on wheat 1DL using near isogenic lines (NILs). We used four independent pairs of NILs derived from a cross between Spark and Rialto winter wheat varieties, grown in both the field and controlled environments. NILs carrying the Spark allele, defined by QTL flanking markers Xgdm111 and Xbarc62 , consistently flowered 3–5 days earlier when fully vernalized relative to those with the Rialto. The effect was independent of photoperiod under field conditions, short days (10-h light), long days (16-h light) and very long days (20-h light). These results validate our original QTL identified using doubled haploid (DH) populations. This QTL represents variation maintained in elite north-western European winter wheat germplasm. The two DH lines used to develop the NILs, SR9 and SR23 enabled us to define the location of the 1DL QTL downstream of marker Xgdm111 . SR9 has the Spark 1DL arm while SR23 has a recombinant 1DL arm with the Spark allele from Xgdm111 to the distal end. Our work suggests that marker assisted selection of eps effects is feasible and useful even before the genes are cloned. This means eps genes can be defined and positionally cloned in the same way as the photoperiod and vernalization genes have been. This validation study is a first step towards fine mapping and eventually cloning the gene directly in hexaploid wheat.