Giant White Squill

The phases of gardening could be described as Reflections on Past Glories, Enjoyment of Present Delights, and Anticipation of Things to Come. (Sure, we could just call them past, present and future, but that would be less experiential.)

Today’s garden stroll brought these phases to mind as I came upon the sprouts of a favored plant, the Giant White Squill, which is also called sea squill, sea onion, and maritime squill. The botanical name is Drimia maritime or Urginea maritime. An uncommon red form, called red squill, also exists.

This plant is native to southern Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. Reportedly, it is a common roadside volunteer in those parts, but it is an uncommon and pleasing plant in my Mediterranean Basin area garden bed.

I first learned of this plant several years ago, at the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show, when it was still at the Cow Palace, at a booth with nothing more the bulbs of this one plant. But what bulbs they were! They were the largest bulbs I had ever seen, about the size of a cantaloupe. I brought one to my garden of course.

It has flourished nicely, confirming its reputation as an easily grown plant. In fact, the bulbs are sold online currently at www.easytogrowbulbs.com. They are pricey, and currently sold out (sorry!).

The growth cycle of the Giant White Squill begins about now, in the early fall. Wide, sword-like green leaves come out of the ground each prepared to produce an inflorescence up to five feet tall. The leaves die back in the early spring, and the stalks develop rather slowly and flower in July. The plant produces a raceme about three feet long with hundreds of white blossoms. The easy to grow bulbs website gushes, “An innovative florists’ dream, these flowers have appeared in Architectural Digest, Garden Design and In Style magazines, in Pottery Barn catalogs, and have graced tables at the toniest Hollywood gatherings.”

This quote actually refers to the raceme; the individual flowers are quite small.

I have enjoyed the floral display each year. After the flowers fade, the stalk dies back and the plant continues underground, with nothing showing. The accompanying photos show the full-grown flower stalk and a close-up of the inflorescence.

One of these photos shows the plant’s condition right now, in mid-October, with five clusters of leaves springing forth. This probably means that the huge bulb that I planted several years ago and relocated once within the garden this year has finally produced additional bulbs, and each will yield its own flower stalk. The ultimate display should be impressive.

Every plant is a natural wonder in its own right but most have rather routine life cycles. One of the many pleasures of gardening is to have a few plants that hide underground for several months, and then produce a dramatic seasonal highlight. The Giant White Squill is one of those special plants.

 

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Giant White Squill – Inflorescence

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Giant White Squill – Raceme

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Giant White Squill – Sprouts

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