Hyacinths - what's happening?

Jim McKenney jamesamckenney@verizon.net
Fri, 02 Mar 2012 14:59:15 PST
Some garden hyacinths can go on giving good performance for years here in Maryland., especially when widely spaced. If you start with what used to be marketed as exhibition sized bulbs you will notice a difference in size after the first year. But the smaller bulbs marketed these days seem more likely to put in about the same performance year after year. 

I've never observed the sort of multiplication and spreading Jim Waddick reported. I can think of several instances in my own neighborhood where the same one hyacinth has appeared year after year - probably the survivor of a potted gift plant. 

I don't know if the commercial growers of hyacinths have moved on to more modern methods such as tissue culture or not, but in the old days hyacinths were commercially propagated by scooping the base of the bulb or scoring across the base of the bulb or by some other way of injuring the basal plate. The bulbs respond to this by producing numerous small bulbs along the incisions. This makes me wonder if the bulbs Jim Waddick has were in some way mechanically injured and responded in the usual way by producing clusters of small bulbs. 

I think of hyacinths as one of the best values in bulbs: under my conditions they seem to be permanent and carefree. There is a clump of the old double flowered cultivar 'Ben Nevis' in my garden which has been blooming dependably for decades.  The spikes are not as full-flowered as when the bulbs were new, but with these double-flowered cultivars that's hardly a disadvantage. 

Jim Waddick mentioned the "black" flowered cultivar 'Midnight Mystic'. I have not seed this yet, but I am growing another very dark flowered hyacinth, 'Menelik'.This cultivar gets its name from two of  the kings of Ethiopia. Several years ago I was in a local grocery shop and the young man checking me out had a name tag which read "Menelik". I asked him if he had been named after one of the kings of Ethiopia. He was flabbergasted that anyone outside of the Ethiopian community knew about that. 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.021954º North, 77.052102º West, USDA zone 7
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