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Squill close up

Scilla siberica (Siberian squill)

April 13, 2018

The celebrated, sweeping, blue carpets at Wave Hill this time of year are usually attributed to the thousands of lesser glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa sardensis) covering the hillsides. But, as is often the case in nature and gardens, the truth is a little more complicated. Scattered among these teeming hoards, you might spot the odd clump of Siberian squill (Scilla siberica).

Both are small, blue-flowering, bulbous plants in the lily family (Liliaceae), but there are differences. Most obviously, the Siberian squill modestly hangs its head—the first image here— while the glory-of-the-snow keeps its face raised, as shown in the second photo. (“Chin up, Chionodoxa” is a useful mnemonic.)

For squill chionodoxa close up

Other differences require closer examination. In glory-of-the-snow, the anthers—the male parts of the flower, which produce pollen—are surrounded by a “cup” composed of flattened, anther filaments. Those of the squill are presented on long, stalk-like anther filaments.

The pollen of the squill is a surprising shade of steel-blue. In fact, it is possible to identify which flowers our honeybees have been visiting by inspecting the pollen baskets on their hind legs: some of them have been returning to the hive with troves of brilliant-blue pollen from this flower. Other flowers blooming now, including glory-of-the-snow and many types of crocus, have pale-yellow to light-orange pollen.

The Siberian squill does not actually come from Siberia. It is native to southern European Russia, across the Caucasus region and into Turkey. The lesser glory-of-the-snow hails from western Turkey—hence the specific epithet of sardensis, meaning “of Sart” (the ancient city of Sardis).

You may find squill here and there in the gardens; these shots were taken along the paths in in the Herbert and Hyonja Abrons Woodland.

By Charles Day, Wave Hill’s former Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.