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Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States

Blue squill thumbnail

Common Name
Blue Squill (Siberian Squill)

 

Scientific Name
Scilla sibirica Haw.

 

Plant Family
Lily (Liliaceae)

Garden Location
Woodland

 

Prime Season
Early Spring

 

 

Blue Squill is an erect perennial that is a native of Eurasia that was introduced to this country by the horticulture trade - it is the most lovely blue flower of spring. The plant only reaches to 4 to 8 inches high to the top of the flowering stem.

The leaves are a basal rosette of 2 to 4 linear leaves that may reach 5 inches in length. Leaf margins often curve inward toward the central vein.

The flowering stem is a 4 to 8 inch green (purplish near the top) colored scape (an aerial stem rising directly from the root) on which the flowers are usually borne singly, sometimes two, and held above the leaves. A single bulb may have from 1 to 4 scapes.

The flowers are 6-parted, about 1 inch wide, tepals only and subtended by small scales (not a leafy bract). These are purple also and one must look close. The fragrant flower opens in a nodding position from a curved stalk at the top of the scape, then the tepals curve outward and upward to reveal the stamens which number six, have white distinct filaments and dark blue anthers. Each tepal has a dark blue central vein. There is a single style with a bluish stigma, the style leading to a 3-sectioned ovary.

Seed: Fertile flowers produce a 3-lobed sub-globose shaped seed capsule, which contains from 3 to 30 small pale brown globose shaped seeds that each have a long white appendage (an elaiosome).

 

Habitat: Blue Squill grows from a small ovoid bulb that is quite durable, surviving digging and replanting very well. Colonies can form and as it can lead to "weediness" care must be taken that the plant does not crowd out native plants. As an early spring plant, it grows well in sunshine and in moist to mesic soils and then dies back with the onset of summer weather.

Names: Some authorities, including the University of Minnesota Herbarium staff, believe this plant should be in the Hyacinth Family (Hyacinthaceae). Others have placed it in the Asparagaceae family. These new families have not been accepted by some major authorities such as USDA. Flora of North America has noted the proposals but has not yet published any changes. The genus name, Scilla, is from the Greek skilla referring to the likeness to the Mediterranean plant Scilla marittima. The species name, sibirica, refers to 'of Siberia' but that was a misnomer as the plant is not from there. The author name for the plant classification, ‘Haw’, refers to Adrian Hardy Haworth, (1767-1833) English botanist and entomologist, Fellow of the Linnean Society, author of Lepidoptera Britannica (1803-1828) and other works including Saxifragearum enumeratio.

Comparison: There is some similarity in appearance to the Wild Hyacinth (Camassia ssp.) but there are enough differences in leaves and flower appearance, especially the 1 or 2 nodding flowers with a single vein on the tepal, vs not nodding and 3 veins on the tepals, to avoid confusion. A white striped Squill is available in the nursery trade.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Blue Squill Blue squill flower Blue squill leaf

Above: 1st photo - Note the nodding position of the new flowers, the purplish color upper portion of the scape (aerial stem); 2nd photo - note the blue anthers and the prominent dark blue vein of the tepal. Just behind the base of the tepals are several small purplish scales; 3rd photo - the linear basal leaves number 2 to 4 and are about 5 inches long.

Below: Detail of the small scales that subtend the flower head. The long linear leaves can reach 5 inches and tend to curve toward the central vein.

Bracts leaf

Below: 1st photo - The 3-sided seed capsule. 2nd photo - The small bulb. 3rd photo - For comparison, this is the wild hyacinth, Camassia scilloides. Note the more numerous non-nodding white flowers.

Seed capsule bulb Wild Hyacinth

Below: A tight grouping of Blue Squill makes a lovely spring sight.

Blue squill group

Notes:

Notes: Native to Eurasia, particularly parts of Russia, Blue Squill is found in North America from Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri on the west and eastward to the coast, not venturing into the southern states. In Canada it appears from Ontario eastward. Populations were usually introduced by planting for the plants floral beauty and the plant usually has not escaped from cultivation, although soil removed from an area where they are growing may soon create a new population in an unwanted place as the small bulbs are very hardy. Minnesota's population is believed to be entirely introduced plantings. It has been recorded on the Garden census since 1986.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

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