GRAPE HYACINTH, Muscari botryoide
JOHN PARKINSON, herbalist and gardener to their dread Majesties James I. and Charles I.--by the latter, indeed, pronounced Botanicus Regius Primarius--hath, in his immortal presentment of "The Paradisus Terrestris" (1629), set forth for our edification five distinct kinds of grape-flower. They are severally the "darke blew," the "skie-coloured," the "branched," the "white," and the "blush." These are now grouped under two species, whereof we have one before us, and the other is the branched or starchgrape hyacinth (Muscari racemosum), a reputed British plant, but undoubtedly, when found wild, a mere escape from a garden. Another of the family, M. comosum, the feather hyacinth, was known to Parkinson in five forms: the "white-haired iacinth," the "Turkie faire-haired," the "great purple," the "faire-haired branched," and the "faire curld-haire."
Grape hyacinths are liliaceous plants of very distinct character, and highly interesting. They have bulbous roots, which increase in number yearly, and offer a ready and simple means of augmenting the stock. This is especially the case with the beautiful Muscari racemosum, which will spread about the garden like a weed, and is not at all particular about the soil, provided it is not pasty. Their flowers are peculiar in their exceeding smallness, in form being more like pouches or eggs than bells. The leaves are like those of the vernal squill, but narrower and neater, owing to their stouter texture.
The many varieties to be found in the books may be referred to five species at most. The one before us is well known for its hardiness and exceeding beauty, although it is far from a showy plant. Its leaves are held in an erect position. Its little flowers are like a cluster of tiny berries, on which remain the white teeth of the calyx of the flower that is gone. But the resemblance disappears when it is seen that the imitation berries are really tubular flowers, and the white teeth are the so-called petals which the botanists call the perianth. Of this sweet little plant there are several varieties, the best of which are M. Heldreicki, which is of larger size in all its parts; pallidum, which has sky-blue flowers; and album, white.
The branched grape hyacinth (M. racemosum) is occasionally met with as a wilding in the southern counties, but is usually regarded as an escape from gardens, this and other species being natives only of Southern Europe and Asia Minor. This has long, prostrate leaves, from amidst which rise dense clusters of egg-shaped flowers of a dark purple or cobalt-blue colour, with distinct white limb or perianth. The varieties are many, but it is sufficient to name M. commutatum and M. neglectum.
The feather hyacinth (M. comosum monstrosum) may perplex the student of plant form who is not yet familiar with the simple means adopted by nature for making sister plants very unlike one another. In this the divisions of the flower are cut into wavy filaments, and the appearance of a feather is the result.
The Armenian grape hyacinth (M. Armeniacum) is a rare and most beautiful species, or perhaps a variety of M. racemosum. Its flowers appear later than the others in a dense spike; their colour is a rich dark blue. Closely allied to this is M. szovitzianum, also flowering late.
The musk hyacinth (M. moschatum) is as scarce as the feather hyacinth, and equally worthy of attention. It is not a showy plant, but its delicate musky fragrance commends it to our favourable attention. In its normal form the flowers are of an unattractive yellow or yellowish-green colour, and would often be unnoticed except for their fragrance. But we are not restricted to this ordinary form when in want of musk hyacinths, because the variety known as M. luteum is of a beautiful sulphur-yellow colour and a waxy texture, and is richly scented.
All these pleasing subjects are of an accommodating nature, and need no special cultivation. A rich, deep, sandy loam will suit them better than any other soil; but any soil that will grow a daisy or a daffodil will serve the purpose. But they want something, or how shall we account for the scarcity of plants that naturally multiply and take care of themselves for the replenishing of the earth? What they really want is protection. These and many more sweet things are systematically destroyed by the spade, for they die down and leave no mark that the untaught eye can see. Then comes the spade, the ground is dug, their bulbs are cast forth as rubbish, and they are seen no more. This kind of destruction is always in progress, and comes into full operation when a new occupant enters an old garden, wherein for years, perhaps, collections of choice things have been assiduously accumulated. Beware of the spade in the garden of hardy plants. Nine times in ten it has no business there. For every hardy plant a suitable station should be prepared, unless the natural soil is well adapted for it; but that being done, mere digging is akin to a crime, for it is likely to make mincemeat of peony roots and the bulbs of lilies and daffodils, and, generally speaking, obliterates all the beauties that are just sleeping to prepare themselves for the jubilations of the spring.
Title: GRAPE HYACINTH, Muscari botryoide Copyright 2002 by PageWise, Inc.
Copyright 2002 by PageWise, Inc.
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