Kew Today - Madeiran squill at Kew Gardens

If it's flowers you're looking for as winter takes hold, make for the Davies Alpine House

24 Nov 2009

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Scilla madeirensis at Kew

Scilla madeirensis (Image: RBG Kew)

This impressive looking squill is native to the Atlantic island of Madeira, where it grows in sunny rock crevices. In autumn the large purple bulbs produce fleshy, pointed leaves that continue to grow after the bulbs have flowered and last well into the following summer. The flowers are held in a dense raceme well above the leaves, over 60 cm (2 feet) above soil level. The lavender-blue flowers, around 1 cm across, open from the bottom of the raceme upwards. Scilla madeirensis is not hardy so must be grown in a frost free glasshouse, which will also provide shelter from rain in the summer. The bulbs are planted on top of the free-draining, loamy compost to reduce the possibility of rotting.

The term 'alpine' is generally used to describe plants found growing between the tree line (the climatic limit of trees), and the zone of permanent snow or ice cover. The planting in the Davies Alpine House comprises permanent planting and temporary, plunged displays of specimens from the reserve collection. Ranging from cushion plants from high-mountain environments to colourful bulbs from the Mediterranean, these are nurtured in the Alpine Nursery by four permanent staff and a trainee. Only when plants come into bloom and are looking their best do they go on display in the Davies Alpine House. All the plants are grown in pots, enabling staff to provide the soil and watering regime that best suits each species.

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