Scilla natalensis

Mary Sue Ittner
Wed, 26 Mar 2003 09:48:21 PST
Dear All,

Just yesterday I created a Scilla page so I could post Bill Dijk and Jana 
Ulmer's pictures
of Scilla natalensis and some pictures my husband took of Scilla peruviana 
nicely blooming now in the ground in our garden.…

Before I could even announce this, Doug has also posted a picture of Scilla 
natalensis so you have three to look at. In December of 1997 Bill Dijk 
offered seeds of Scilla natalensis on the IBS forum to anyone who wanted 
therm. The seeds are short lived. I said yes and in late December I and 
quite a few others received the seed (and some other seeds as well.) I had 
great germination but lost all but one of the plants and it has several 
offsets but has not bloomed. Jana lost some of her seedlings to the cold 
but has one that is blooming for the first time. So that is 5+ years. 
Perhaps Doug's is from the same generation.

Sir Peter Smithers was a member of that original group and he told us he 
grew his as a pot plant since it wasn't hardy in Switzerland. Here is what 
he wrote in his book about it:
"Scilla natalensis is a stately creature sometimes two feet high, with a 
fountain of broad beautifully sculptured leaves from the centre of which 
arises a spike of uncountable tiny blue flowers.   Leaves and then flowers 
appear in early autumn.   At their base is a large fat bulb sitting on top 
of the earth in the manner of a Hippeastrum - - - - the exact opposite of 
what we think of as a Scilla.  S.natalensis is a reliable as well as 
elegant pot plant which can be depended on to flower every autumn.  It must 
have a complete rest after the foliage dies down in summer and the 
protection of a frost free place during its season of growth in autumn and 
winter.   To my eye it is beautiful and it lasts in flower for a 
considerable time."

So that was one view of how to grow it.

Bill also told us:
"Unfortunately bulbs are not fully hardy, they should be grown only in near 
frost-free, well drained areas, although it can be grown as a special 
specimen container plant in colder climates, with necessary protection in 

Then we heard from Robb Smith from British Columbia,
"I have been in the habit of drying off and storing Scilla natalensis 
through our rather cold and definitely wet winters, but I left some outside 
this last winter.  In spite of temperatures down to -12C and flooding, they 
remained bright green and thriving.  It appears they can
be considered evergreen in the NW and probably the SE US.

For some reason, the bulbs that are dried off and stored over winter are 
extremely slow in returning to growth.  My experience, and that of others 
in this area, is that leaves do not appear until July in this case."

I added these comments, "My Natal wildflower guide describes it as found on 
damp cliffs and marshy depressions with the leaves borne after the flowers 
in September." That would be March in this hemisphere.

Greg Pettit told us that he sold 3000 to 6000 mature plants to the Japanese 
every year. He lives in Durban, South Africa (zone 12). He said they also 
grew in humus enriched soil (besides cliffs.) He could grow them but not 
flower them because they needed cold to induce dormancy. Fire also helps 
with blooming he said but was not entirely necessary. He wrote, "I foliar 
feed all my bulbs twice weekly in spring and summer, once a week in autumn 
and once a month in winter.  The last is most likely a waste of time but at 
least the weeds enjoy the boost."

Rachel Saunders added, "Scilla natalensis does come a summer rainfall area, 
and normally grows in summer.  It flowers quite early in spring, then grows 
through the summer and goes dormant when the rains stop and the weather 
gets cold."

Bill Dijk then advised the Scilla be kept dry during dormancy or they would 

Robb Smith then posted:
I have been growing Scilla natalensis in a winter rainfall Zone 7 area for 
about ten years.  Its behavior under these conditions is quite peculiar:
1.  Grown outside, spring foliage does not emerge until mid-June, and stays 
green through winter (temp down to -12C!!) until March, when it dies down 
2.  If the bulbs are stored dry over winter and brought into growth in the 
spring, the foliage still does not emerge until mid-June.
3.  Flowering occurs in July.
4.  My seed was wild-collected at a site where Scilla nervosa also 
grew.  However, the Scilla nervosa bulbs rot if not stored quite dry over 
5.  Scilla dracomontanum, from a higher, wetter location also rots here in 
winter if not stored fairly dry."

Bill told us in December "The best way to get it to bloom is to plant it in 
the hottest, sunniest, free draining spot in the garden, with plenty of 
moisture when in full

I am including all these comments for two purposes. One you can see how 
hard it is for this wiki worker to tell how to grow some of these treasures 
by summarizing the word of the experts. The mind boggles. Secondly for many 
bulbs there is more than one way to get them to grow and flower.

I'm not sure I can get my friend Jana to come out of lurkdom, but she lives 
in Sebastopol, Northern California (cold Mediterranean). She lives in a 
cold pocket in winter even though she has a coastal influence and has been 
planting most of her bulbs in the ground. So Scilla natalensis is surely in 
the ground and it is now going to bloom in March. And the picture shows new 
foliage. Her picture of the leaves and the flower stalk emerging is 
wonderful. So Jana tell us if yours is in the hottest, sunniest, free 
draining spot in the garden. I wish Robb were a member of this group so he 
could say what location his were planted in.

I've been afraid it was too wet where I live to plant mine out since I 
don't want to lose it, but I've left it to be rained on now and again this 
past winter and it is just shooting out now. With Jana's success maybe it 
is time to put it in the ground and hope for the best.

Doug, is yours in a container?

Maybe Doug and Jana can save seed for the BX and in another 5-6 years some 
others can report blooms.

Mary Sue
Mary Sue Ittner
California's North Coast
Wet mild winters with occasional frost
Dry mild summers

More information about the pbs mailing list