Tim EntwisleGiant squill is simply delightful, Madeira

No I haven’t been to Madeira. But according to Greg Redwood, one of my colleagues here at Kew, I should go there rather than to (mainland) Portugal. This was in response to me listing the places in Europe Lynda and I had hoped to visit while on this side of the world. Oh, well. Next time. For now though I have the Madeirenese (I’m torn here between Madeiranese and Madeirenese – if only I’d studied Latin at school) flora to enjoy. And isn’t that the great thing about a botanic garden: you can visit the plant world without leaving home.

Lush foliage and upright flowers of Scilla madeirensis

Lush foliage and upright flowers of Scilla madeirensis

Even better of course, discover the flora then the country. But back to my featured plant from Madeira, Scilla madeirensis, the Giant Madeiran Squill. It’s one of very few flowers out at the moment. Besides viburnum and mahonia you have to look hard for your floral delights in December.

Graham and me next to Scilla madarensis

Graham and me next to Scilla madarensis

I discovered the Giant Madeiran Squill last weekend, when walking through Kew Gardens with the Ross family from Sydney (Graham, Sandra, Kent and Kata; that’s Graham and me in one of the back-of-house nurseries at Kew; the rest of these pictures are from the Davies Alpine House).

Delicate blue flowers of Scilla madeirensis, the Giant Madeiran Squill

Delicate blue flowers of Scilla madeirensis, the Giant Madeiran Squill

Kew received its first specimen of the Giant Madeiran Quill in 1976. Richard Wilford, Head of Hardy Display at Kew Gardens recalls this in his 2010 blog post, noting that the bulbs have to stay above ground to stop them rotting. This means we get to enjoy the bold red onion like textures and colours of the bulb, as well as the delicately lavender blue flowers peppered with brownish purple stamens as they open.

Bulb of Scilla madeirensis, the Giant Madeiran Squill

Bulb of Scilla madeirensis, the Giant Madeiran Squill

Brown stamens of Scilla madeirensis, the Giant Madeiran Squill

Brown stamens of Scilla madeirensis, the Giant Madeiran Squill

In Madeira this giant squill is only found on steep cliffs near the coast, places where it is difficult for plant collectors to access. There it experiences mild temperatures, down to about 7 degrees C. It won’t tolerate frosts – so it needs to be grown under cover in London – and is probably unhappy in places with particularly warm winters – all OK on that front.

Scilla is in the hyacinth family (Hyacinthaceae), a group of plants that does seem to enjoy doing things in winter. Here are a few other members of the family from the other end of Africa, out in flower this week in Kew Gardens’ Alpine House: Massonia pustulata, Whiteheadia bifolia (2 pictures) and Polyxena corymbosa.

Massonia pustulata

Massonia pustulata

Whiteheadia bifolia

Whiteheadia bifolia

Whiteheadia bifolia

Whiteheadia bifolia

Polyxena corymbosa

Polyxena corymbosa

So I’ve experienced a little of the flora of Africa and it’s nearby islands this week. As you’d expect, the flora of Madeira has plenty of links to that of mainland Africa, as have Spain’s Canary Islands which we visited last winter. I’ll finish with a collage of wildflowers from Madeira, copied from Wiki Commons, where you might be able to spot a few more African links.

Madeira-flowers - from Wiki Commons

Madeira-flowers – from Wiki Commons

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Tim Entwisle

About Tim Entwisle

Dr Tim Entwisle is a scientist and scientific communicator with a broad interest in plants, science and gardens, and Director & Chief Executive of Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Previously he was Director of Conservation, Living Collections & Estates at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and prior to that, Director of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens for eight years. Read Tim's full blog at Talking Plants

6 thoughts on “Giant squill is simply delightful, Madeira

  1. Hi Tim
    I would have said “Madeiranienses” which means: “from Madeira” but I did not study Latin either; just Spanish.
    Anyway, that beautiful plant would be the answer to our prayers to the very popular and weedy Agapanthus! Or maybe we would be replacing one weed for another?
    Looking forward to see you again in Australia soon.
    Carol Griesser

  2. That has a much better ring to it Carol! That’s a good point, this does have some of the characteristics of Agapanthus – but hopefully not the weediness. I wouldn’t have thought so, but then we’ve made mistakes before. Looking forward to my return. Tim

  3. Hi Tim,

    Yours is an interesting story. Don’t want to outblog you but we have flowering here at “Woodgreen” in Bilpin a beautiful Musschia wollastonii. I understand that it’s from Madeira, monocarpic (darn) but so intriguing. I’ll definitely save seed. Am I right in assuming that in its native area it’s quite rare?

    The Canary Islands and Madeira are on our must do list for future travelling.

    Cheers,

    Peta Trahar

  4. TimEntwisle on said:

    Not quite as colourful as the Squill Peta but fascinating plant and more unusual. I gather it’s listed as Endangered in Madeira, and like the Giant Squill, found nowhere else. Yes make sure you do gather seed… Tim

  5. I dread to think how the Massonia pustulata ended up with such a ghastly name. It looks innocuous enough…….

    • The pustules are tiny lumps on the leaves – at our scale, a beautiful addition! Tim

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