Wood Hyacinth (Scilla)

Wood Hyacinth (Scilla)


SCILLAS (wood-hyacinths) are small, bulbous-rooted plants no­table for the brightly colored flowers of some kinds, the speckled or striped leaves of others, and both foliage and flowers of still others.

Indoor scillas include two distinct kinds, the hardy and the tender. Hardy types, which can withstand extreme cold, will not bloom if kept indoors for more than a single season. They are treated as temporary house plants, to be enjoyed while in flower but to be discarded (or planted out of doors) when flowering stops. The tender kinds, which cannot tolerate extreme cold, are generally kept in­doors for several years. Although they have a winter rest period, their leaves remain decorative throughout the year, whereas the bulbs of the hardy species lose all their top growth after the end of the flowering season. Flow­ers of hardy scillas are generally more brightly colored than those of the tender forms.

The bulbs of both kinds are about \ inch in diameter, usually green or cream-colored, and covered with a thin, papery skin (known as the "tunic"). This tunic can be shiny and almost transparent, permitting the basic green or cream color to show through, or it is opaquely deep purple or brown tinged with purple. Hardy species are bought as single bulbs and remain single. The tender species pro­duce offsets profusely, so that a tightly packed cluster of small bulbs can cover the surface of a pan of potting mixture within a few years. The leaves of all scillas are stalkless, broadly lance-shaped, from 2 to 9 inches long, and |-i inch wide. Leaf color is rich, shiny green in the hardy species, and vari­ously patterned in the tender kinds. Up to three or four flower stalks rising among the leaves from the center of each bulb bear several pendent, bell-shaped flowers  each slender, 3- to 4-inch-long stalk. The bulb is dull green, and it has a transparent tunic.

S. ovalifolia is a tender species with fewer leaves than most other scillas. Sometimes there are only two or three l\- to 3-inch-long leaves to each bulb. Each leaf has undulate edges and is pale green, spotted with darker green on the upper surface. Tiny, greenish flowers appear in spring. They are arranged in a loose, 2- to 3-inch-long spike at the end of a flower stalk 4-6 inches long. The pale green bulb has a transparent tunic.

S. siberica (Siberian squill), a hardy species, has narrow, channeled, bright green leaves 6 inches long. Deep blue flowers, produced in early spring, are § inch across and are generally arran­ged in threes at the top of each 3- to 5-inch-long flower stalk. The bulb is white, with a deep violet-purple tunic. There is a white-flowered form, S.s. 'Alba'; and another, S.s. 'Atro-coerulea' (spring beauty), with deeper blue, earlier-blooming flowers. S. tubergeniana is a hardy plant with apple green leaves up to 4 inches long. Flowers 1inch wide appear in early spring and are pale blue, with a threadlike, deeper blue line running down the center of each petal. The flowers are arranged in threes at the top of 3- to 5-inch-long stalks; some are pendent, some are held erect and some extend horizontally. The bulb is yellowish, with a transparent tunic.

S. violacea (now officially Ledebouria socialis), the most familiar of the tender scillas, has fleshy, pointed leaves 2-4 inches long. Leaf upper surfaces are silvery gray blotched and banded with olive green, and the undersides are deep violet. Dense clusters of tiny, green flowers edged with white are produced in spring on flower stalks 3-6 inches long. The bulb is purplish, with a transparent tunic.


Light The tender scillas require bright light with three to four hours a day of direct sunlight. Bulbs of the hardy species (which are best planted in fall) should be kept in the dark for the first 10 to 12 weeks, while roots and top growth are forming. In late winter as soon as the flower buds begin to appear, introduce the plants gradually (over a period of about 10 days) to bright filtered light. Do not subject them to direct sunlight at any time.

Temperature During the active growth period of the tender scillas normal room temperatures are suit­able. During the rest period keep them at 50°-6o°F, if possible. Potted bulbs of the hardy species need temperatures no higher than about 500 throughout most of the winter. Once flower buds are showing, temperatures up to 6o° become tolerable. Although hardy scillas will flower at temperatures above 6o°, warmth will shorten the life of the flowers.

Watering During the active growth period water tender species moder­ately, allowing the top half-inch of the mixture to dry out before watering again. During the rest period water these scillas only enough to prevent the mixture from drying out. During the long period while hardy bulbs are forming roots in the dark, test the potting mixture every two weeks to make sure that it re­mains moist. If necessary, add just enough water to keep the mixture from drying out. From the moment that flower heads emerge from the necks of the bulbs until all flowering stops, water plentifully.

Feeding It is not necessary to feed the hardy species during their short life indoors. Apply standard liquid ferti­lizer to the tender kinds once a month during the active growth period.

Potting and repotting Use a soil-based potting mixture, and plant all scilla bulbs in pans or half-pots. Plant bulbs of the hardy species in early fall, burying several bulbs just below the surface of the potting mixture in a single container. Set the bulbs so that they almost, but not quite, touch one another, water enough to moisten the mixture with­out making it sodden, and place the container in a cool, dark position. If necessary, enclose the potted bulbs in a plastic bag and put it on a shady window ledge or balcony. Darkness and cold are essential if the bulbs are to make roots before making top growth.

Pot up the bulbs of tender scillas in the spring. Put no more than three bulbs in a single 4- or 6-inch pan or half-pot. Space the bulbs evenly over the surface, and bury only the bottom half of each bulb in the potting mix­ture. During the first four to six weeks do not feed the plants, and water sparingly, allowing the top half of the mixture to dry out between water­ings. When the new roots should be well established, treat the plants in the normal way. Break up overcrowded clumps every two or three years.

Propagation Hardy scillas are not propagated indoors. To propagate the tencler kinds break bulbs away from clumps after the flowers have faded (normally, in late spring), and pot them up as recommended.

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