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Flowering now: The giant Madeiran squill

Richard Wilford
17 November 2010
Blog team: 
The giant Madeiran squill (Scilla madeirensis) is flowering in the Davies Alpine House now. Read on to see how we grow this impressive plant.

Scilla madeirensis is a fantastic species from, as you may have guessed from its name, the Atlantic island of Madeira. It is related to the tiny blue-flowered squills often seen in gardens but this plant is much bigger and flowers in the middle of winter. The violet-blue flowers are held in dense racemes that emerge from between bright green, pointed leaves.


The flowers of Scilla madeirensis


Only a few weeks ago the huge, purple bulbs of this plant were dormant. The leaves of this species last throughout the winter but by the summer they have died back and the plant is dormant during the long, dry summers in its natural home, where it lives on vertical rock faces. Early in October the bulbs are given fresh soil but unlike most bulbs, the roots do not die back completely so the hefty rootball has to be carefully cleaned up before new soil can be filtered in around the edges of its new pot.


Repotting the bulbs of Scilla madeirensis in early October


Kew first received this plant in 1976 when it was just one large bulb. Over the years it has multiplied but the bulbs are still attached to a thick basal plate just below the soil surface. The only way to split them is by cutting through this base. We now have several large pots of this plant in the Alpine Nursery. The bulbs are kept above the soil level to reduce the risk of them rotting.


Bulbs of Scilla madeirensis ready for their first watering


Once they have received some water, growth is remarkably quick. Only four days later the leaves had begun to shoot from the tops of the bulbs.


New growth just a few days after repotting


By the middle of November the flower spikes have developed and the first blooms are opening. It is then that the pots are moved into the Davies Alpine House and put on display. This is not a hardy plant and the pots are kept in a frost-free glasshouse in the nursery. It may be far from a true alpine but it does well in the Alpine House and at a time of year when any flowers are welcome, it makes an impressive sight.


Scilla madeirensis on display in the Davies Alpine House


- Richard -


25 November 2010
Fascinating and beautiful, the bulbs alone are quite striking. Good job it's not frost hardy ... I'd never find room in my alpine house for it!
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24 November 2010
What fantastic coloured bulbs - and such beautiful extravagant-looking flowers... The Alpine House is a real pleasure when everything else seems to be folding up for the winter.
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20 November 2010
Wonderful plant. Extraordinary beauty evolves from those bulbs!
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19 November 2010
It is very informative and interesting article.
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