Scilla verna (spring squill)
A hardy spring bulb with attractive blue-violet flowers, spring squill is native to western Europe.
About this species
Scilla verna is found in exposed coastal habitats around much of the western and northern coasts of western Europe and along the eastern coast of Ireland. It is one of only two squills native to the UK, the other being the autumn-flowering Scilla autumnalis (autumn squill).
Spring squill is a member of the Asparagaceae (subfamily Scilloideae). The generic name Scilla derives from the Greek skilla, which became the Latin scilla and was the ancient Greek name for another squill (Urginea maritima). The specific epithet verna comes from vernum, Latin for spring.
Although it can grow in large colonies in the wild, Scilla verna is an attractive ornamental species that can be appreciated as a specimen plant in containers and in rock gardens. It can also be planted densely in lawns to produce a carpet of blue flowers in spring.
Geography & Distribution
Spring squill is native to western Europe, from northern Portugal to Føroyar (Faroe Islands). It is found up to 2,000 m above sea level.
In its native coastal grassland and heath habitats it is often seen in association with Armeria maritima (thrift), Silene dioica (sea campion), Calluna vulgaris (heather), Festuca ovina (sheep’s fescue), Lotus corniculatus (bird’s-foot trefoil), Plantago maritima (sea plantain) and Thymus praecox (wild thyme).
It is a key component of the maritime heath community H7 (Calluna vulgaris-Scilla verna heath), as described in the British National Vegetation Classification System.
Scilla verna growing in south Wales, near St Davids (Image: Richard Wilford)
Overview: A bulbous perennial up to 20 cm tall. Bulbs are ovoid and 10–20 mm in diameter.
Leaves: 2–7 basal, linear, deep-green leaves, measuring 3–20 cm × 2–5 mm.
Flowers: Star-like, lilac-blue to violet, each with a bluish basal bract. Flowers have six tepals (outer flower parts not differentiated into sepals and petals) and are grouped into dense inflorescences containing 2–12 flowers. Flowers contain both female and male parts and are unscented.
Fruits: Capsules, splitting open from the top when ripe.
Seeds: Black, ovoid, with small appendages.
Scilla verna is cultivated as an ornamental for its attractive display of delicate violet-blue flowers in spring. There are no known medicinal uses.
Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
See Kew’s Seed Information Database for further information on Scilla verna seeds.
Spring squill is grown in the Rock Garden at Kew in free-draining soil topped with a fine grit layer, which aids drainage and helps display the plant. Similarly, potted specimens in the Davies Alpine House are grown in grit-topped, free-draining compost containing coir, sterilised soil, grit and sand.
Scilla verna can be propagated from seed collected in late summer. Autumn-sown seed should germinate the following spring and flower within three years. Plants can also be propagated vegetatively by dividing the bulbs during the dormant period.
This species at Kew
Pale form of Scilla verna emerging from a terracotta pot in Kew’s Alpine Unit (Image: Alice Lumb)
Spring squill has been cultivated at Kew since 1789. It can be seen growing in the ‘British natives’ section of Kew’s Rock Garden, to the right of the stream. When in flower, it is also often displayed in the Davies Alpine House. It can also be seen growing at Wakehurst Place.
Dried and alcohol-preserved specimens of Scilla verna are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. Further details of some of these specimens can be seen in Kew’s Herbarium Catalogue.
Visit the BSBI (Botanical Society of the British Isles) website for a map showing the distribution of Scilla verna across Great Britain and Ireland, from the 1930’s to the present day.
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