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Scilla verna (spring squill)

A hardy spring bulb with attractive blue-violet flowers, spring squill is native to western Europe.

Scilla verna flower

Scilla verna (spring squill)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Scilla verna Huds.

Common name: 

spring squill, spring-flowered squill, sea onion

Conservation status: 

Not assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria.

Habitat: 

Short, dry, lime-rich grassland, and vegetated or rocky sea cliffs or maritime heath.

Key Uses: 

Ornamental.

Known hazards: 

The whole plant is poisonous, and ingestion may cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, cardiac problems and in some cases death.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Lilianae
Order: 
Asparagales
Family: 
Asparagaceae
Genus: Scilla

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.

Synonym: 

Scilla vernalis Salisb., Petranthe verna (Huds.) Salisb., Stellaris verna (Huds.) Bubani, Oncostema verna (Huds.) Speta, Tractema verna (Huds.) Speta. Full list available on the World Checklist.

Genus: 
Scilla

Discover more

Geography and distribution

 

Scilla verna (spring squill) flowers

Scilla verna growing in south Wales, near St Davids.

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.

Description

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.

Uses

Scilla verna is cultivated as an ornamental for its attractive display of delicate violet-blue flowers in spring. There are no known medicinal uses.

Cultivation

Scilla verna (spring squill) pale form

Pale form of Scilla verna emerging from a terracotta pot in Kew’s Alpine Unit.

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

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.

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.

References and credits

Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (2009). An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG III. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 161: 105–121.

Angiosperm Phylogeny Website (2012). (Accessed 26 April 2012). Available online.

Biological Records Centre (BRC) (2012). Online Atlas of the British and Irish Flora: Scilla verna. (Accessed 19 November 2012). Available online.

Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI). Maps Scheme. (Accessed 19 November 2012). Available online.

Chase, M. W. & Reveal, J. L. (2009). A phylogenetic classification of the land plants to accompany APG III. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 161: 122–127.

Cope, T. (2009). The Wild Flora of Kew Gardens: A Cumulative Checklist from 1759. Kew Publishing, Surrey.

Gledhill, D. (2008). The Names of Plants, 4th Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Grey-Wilson, C. & Mathew, B. (1981). Bulbs: The Bulbous Plants of Europe and their Allies. Collins, London.

Halliwell, B. (1992). The Propagation of Alpine Plants and Dwarf Bulbs. Batsford, London.

Ingrouille, M. (1995). Historical Ecology of the British Flora. Chapman & Hall, London.

IUCN (2012). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Version 2012.2. (Accessed 14 November 2012). Available online.

JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee) (2012). The Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain: Conservation Designations for UK Taxa. (Accessed 29 April 2012). Available online.

Mabberley, D. J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses, 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Mabey, R. (1996). Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.

Nelson, L. S., Shih, R. D. & Balick, M. J. (2007). Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants. New York Botanical Garden/Springer, New York.

Phillips, R. & Rix, M. (2002). The Botanical Garden: Volume II, Perennials and Annuals. Macmillan, London.

Rodwell, J. S. (1991). British Plant Communities Volume 2 - Mires and Heaths. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Stace, C. (2010). New Flora of the British Isles, 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

The Plant List (2010). Scilla verna. (Accessed 19 November 2012). Available online.

Tutin, T. G., Heywood, V. H., Burges, N. A., Moore, D. M., Valentine, D. H., Walters, S. M & Webb, P. A. (1980). Flora Europaea, Volume 5: Alismataceae to Orchidaceae (Monocotyledons). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

WCSP (2012). World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Facilitated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. (Accessed 06 November 2012). Available online.

Kew Science Editors: Rhian Smith and Alice Lumb
Kew contributors: Anna Trias Blasi and Richard Wilford
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell

Although every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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