Family: Liliaceae
Habitat: Mediterranean basin, southern Asia and Africa.
Cultivation: The great variety of species present in the genus Scylla implies different needs as well. There are tough species, which resist to harsh conditions, and more delicate species – with more abundant and decorative blooms, but less resistant.
Curiosity: The poisonous bulbs have misled many in the past because of their resemblance to onions. Today it has been reconsidered in herbalism as a medicinal plant.


The genus Scilla includes a great variety of herbaceous perennal, bulb-forming plants of the family Asparagaceae, native to the whole old continent, with the greater number of species coming from the Mediterranean basin. Their habitats are various: from woodlands and sub-alpine meadows, to seashore.

The precise number of species of Scilla depends on the classification system used: in particular, on which proposals to split the genus are accepted. For example, there is a proposal to separate the eurasian species into smaller genera, among which there is Othocallis. Other generas related to Scilla are Ledebouria, into which several species previously named Scilla have been moved, and Hyacintoides.

The most popular species of Scilla is undoubtely Scilla marittima, also called “Sea onion” which, despite its name, isn’t an aquatic plant, but grow on seashore, in sandy soils. Other popular species are S. autunnale, S. bifolia, S. hispanica and S. peruviana.

They are little herbs with inflorescences similar to the ones of hyacinths (that’s why Scilla is also called false hyacinth) with compact and very resistant bulbs, which look like onions.

Leaves, basically lanceolate, vary a lot according to the species and in some cases they are permanent. This means that they remain on the plant also during blossoming, unlike in other bulbous plants, which loose the leaves while flowering. In some species, leaves are very special: for example, in S. Violacea they are spotted and covered by a light down which gives them a velvety consistance.

Scylla grows to a maximum height of 20 – 30 cm and expands quickly, creating compact clusters of a beautiful vibrant green that, in summer, is adorned with blue blooms.

Its flowers are generally five-petaled and ermaphrodites, with colors ranging from white to light blue. They grow grouped in gorgeous inflorescences and are the main reason (together with the bulbs) why these species are so sought after by ornamental gardeners. The inflorescence are clusters, called, in botany language, racemes. Some species have cymose inflorescences, which are, instead compact and devoid of a principal axis of development. Blooming time occurs in Spring, when Scilla are among the first plant to bloom.

Scillas are good to be planted with other spring bulbs, including Crocus, Daffodils and Snowdrops. Once planted, they tend to expand all around and are perennial, so put them in places where you’ll be happy to have them spread. In Autumn, the foliage of this plant withers, and in Winter only the bulb remains. At the beginning on the Spring, both the leaves and the flowers sprout as the bulbs exit dormancy.


The species available in commerce are mostly those from Europe.
Here are some currently recognized species of Scylla:

  • S. achtenii
  • S. africana
  • S. albanica
  • S. amoena
  • S. andria
  • S. antunesii
  • S. arenaria
  • S. begoniifolia
  • S. benguellensis
  • S. berthelotii
  • S. bifolia
  • S. bithynica
  • S. bussei
  • S. chlorantha
  • S. ciliata
  • S. cilicica
  • S. congesta
  • S. cretica
  • S. cydonia
  • S. dimartinoi
  • S. dualaensis
  • S. flaccidula
  • S. forbesii
  • S. gabunensis
  • S. gracillima
  • S. haemorrhoidalis
  • S. hildebrandtii
  • S. huanica
  • S. hyacinthoides
  • S. ingridiae
  • S. jaegeri
  • S. katendensis
  • S. kladnii
  • S. kurdistanica
  • S. lakusicii
  • S. latifolia
  • S. laxiflora
  • S. ledienii
  • S. leepii
  • S. libanotica
  • S. lilio-hyacinthus
  • S. litardierei
  • S. lochiae
  • S. luciliae
  • S. lucis
  • S. madeirensis
  • S. melaina
  • S. merinoi
  • S. mesopotamica
  • S. messeniaca
  • S. mischtschenkoana
  • S. mixta
  • S. monanthos
  • S. monophyllos
  • S. morrisii
  • S. nana
  • S. non-scripta
  • S. odorata
  • S. oubangluensis
  • S. paui
  • S. peruviana
  • S. petersii
  • S. picta
  • S. platyphylla
  • S. ramburei
  • S. reuteri
  • S. rosenii
  • S. sardensis
  • S. schweinfurthii
  • S. seisumsiana
  • S. siberica
  • S. simiarum
  • S. sodalicia
  • S. tayloriana
  • S. textilis
  • S. uyuiensis
  • S. verdickii
  • S. verna
  • S. villosa
  • S. vindobonensis
  • S. voethorum
  • S. welwitschii
  • S. werneri


The great variety of species present in the genus Scilla implies different needs as well. There are tough species, which resist to harsh conditions, and more delicate species – with more abundant and decorative blooms, but less resistant.

In general, though, you can stick to these cultivation tips of ours:

  • Accustomed to the Mediterranean climate and beaches, Scilla generally require full sun exposure.
  • Keep the plants always above 5-6 °C. Some species can withstand even colder temperatures, if the soil is maintained dry.
  • During the growing season, between one watering and the next, the soil should remain slightly moist to avoid the risk of drying out the bulb. Be careful, however, not to water too much, to prevent rot.
  • Use a well-draining, sandy-based soil.
  • To obtaine more abundant blooms of brighter colors, it is advisable to fertilize once a month in spring and summer with a product based on phosphorus or other fertilizers for flowering plants.
  • If you have bulbs, plant them during the fall, so that they can put roots before winter. During the cold season, they will remain dormant, waiting for the spring to sprout and bloom in a couple of weeks.
  • Repotting necessities vary according to the species.

For the reproduction it’s possible to use both the seeds and the bulbs division. The bulbs should be taken off the ground during the vegetative rest, cleaned up, left to dry and then kept in a dry and dark place. The eventual division must be done in spring, before burying them again.

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