The Beautiful Blue Squill.

Posted by on October 15, 2015

 

Merwilla plumbea.

mer-WILL-luh  plum-BEY-uh.

Formally Scilla natalensis.

Hyacinthaceae.

Common names: Wild squill, Blue squill, Blouslangkop, Blouberglelie.

Derivation of Name:  named after F. van der Merwe,  (1894 – 1968), medical inspector of schools, who had an interest in Aloe, Ledebouria and other indigenous plants, plumbea refers to the blue colour.

Mervilla natalensis Photo: Esther

Yellow-belted Fruit Chafer feeding on Merwilla plumbea
Photo: Esther

The Blue squill is one of the most beautiful  indigenous bulbs flowering in spring.  The graceful blue ‘spikes’ appear from the centre of a rosette of broad, tapering leaves that emerge from the top of the half exposed bulb in spring. The inflorescence  is made up by lots of small star-shaped blue flowers, each one carried on a blue stalk, forming a hazy blue plume. The individual flowers don’t last long, however there is a succession up the flower stalk that can last for a month. It is pollinated by bees and other insects.  In the evening the flowers emit a faint honey fragrance.

Rosette leaves of Merwillia plumbea. Photo: Esther

Broad rosette leaves of Merwillia plumbea.
Photo: Esther

Mervilla plumbea occurs throughout the Eastern Cape, Lesotho, KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland and Mpumalanga.  It is listed as Vulnerable due to intensive harvesting of the bulb.  It is used traditionally in muthi (medicine) in KwaZulu-Natal for the treatment of various ailments.

It grows easily in the garden, suited to rockeries, mixed beds or container gardening.  It requires a sunny or semi-shade position.  Mine is located where there is no sun in winter and full sun in summer.  Give it some good compost enriched soil and leave it undisturbed for as long as possible. The top of the bulb should be half to two thirds showing above the ground. Seeds germinate easily and should be sown soon after harvesting as it does not keep unless refrigerated.  It can also be grown from offsets which can be removed from the mother plant during the dormant period.

Caution: the whole plant is toxic and even handling it can cause skin burn.

 

Contributor: Esther

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