Plant of the Week: Striped Squill

Photo by Steven SeveringhausA blue stripe adds color to the pale petals of Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica. Photo by Steven Severinghaus

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.

Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica, or striped squill, is a quiet, relatively unknown beauty that has nevertheless fascinated gardeners for centuries. It is named for the Russian count Apollos Apollosovich Mussin-Pushkin, who first encountered it in the Caucasus region of Eurasia in 1805. Louis Beebe Wilder, a 19th-century horticulturist and garden writer, said of striped squill: “It is a flower meant for minute scrutiny, to hold in the hand or to bend over attentively, when its modest charms will be made plain to you.” It is indeed a relatively unassuming spring bulb, but worth our attention. Its “modest charms” include strappy, bright green foliage and pale flowers of six petals, each with a blue stripe down the center, arranged around a central stalk. Not the least of its charms is its clean, spicy fragrance.

Classed as one of the “minor bulbs” – as opposed to the “major” glories of the daffodils, tulips and hyacinths that we are all familiar with – striped squill’s silvery-blue flowers bloom on the High Line in the empty moment when the snowdrops are fading and the closely related glory-of-the-snows have yet to bloom in full. It tolerates a variety of conditions, but will flourish in full sun to part shade and soils that are moist and well-drained during its active growing season. It tolerates summer drought, and it shouldered this winter's brutal weather well.

Its range of tolerance makes striped squill a good choice for naturalizing in tough spots. It reportedly grows well in the shade of evergreen trees. As a native of mountainous regions in Asia, it’s right at home in craggy rock gardens. It is often planted in drifts in lawns, where it will thrive if left unmown until June.

On the High Line, you can find Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica blooming in small patches in the Washington Grasslands, between Little West 12th and West 13th Streets.

Download our April Bloom Guide.

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line’s most important gardening projects — become a member of Friends of the High Line today!

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