TOW - Scilla

Cameron McMaster
Fri, 12 Dec 2003 03:34:54 PST
Scilla natalensis should be cold hardy where the ground doesn't freeze. It tolerates the occasional -5C frost and regular -3C frost at Stutterheim very well.  I have also found that the seed isn't viable for more than two or three months, so this time last year when we harvested seed, I put it in the refrigerator.  Two weeks ago I sowed the left-overs to check their viability after one year in the fridge, and they have germinated!  Unfortunately I didn't check the numbers, but my guess is at least 40% germination.

In Elsa Pooley's latest book (lots of photos, really useful) MOUNTAIN FLOWERS - A field guide to the Flora of the Drakensberg and Lesotho,  S. natalensis is described as occuring up to 2000 m,  "Frost resistant garden plant." and "Used in traditional medicine  to treat internal tumours, boils, fractures and for lung disease in cattle." and "White 'sports' and hybrids with S. dracomontana can be found."  So they obviously hybridise easily.  It is one of the most traded bulbous species on the SA traditional medicine market (together with Hypoxis hemerocallidea and Eucomis autumnalis).  The flower colour varies from a pinkish blue to deep blue.  And the leaves vary from very furry   to smooth and hairless, some wider or longer than others.  The bulbs should have about one-third exposed above ground.

We also grow the miniature S. natalensis var. baurii which seems to have the same habits as the larger form.  And we still have to get an ID for another miniature one that looks like it could be S. dracomontana.  

The East Cape Scilla nervosa (it occurs right up Africa to Tanzania) is as cold-hardy as S. natalensis.  The seeds are black, unlike the whitish seeds of S. natalensis.  It may find itself in another genus some time in the future!  The flowers are white with a very dark centre.

Rhoda McMaster
African Bulbs (was 'The Croft' at Stutterheim)
Napier, Western Cape
Mediterranean climate with a few summer showers

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