Lily family (Liliaceae)
Description: This introduced perennial plant consists of a rosette of semi-erect basal leaves about 6" tall or less. At maturity, these leaves are about 5" long and ¾" across. They are linear-oblong, hairless, shiny green, and smooth along the margins, tapering to a blunt point. Usually, each mature leaf rolls upward from the middle toward the margins along its length. One or more flowering stalks are produced from the center of the rosette. These narrow stalks are up to 6" long, leafless, and often purplish green. Each stalk curves downward at its apex and bears a single nodding flower.
The flowers are about 1" across, consisting of 6 blue tepals, 6 stamens with blue anthers, and a green pistil with an undivided style. Each tepal is oblong-linear and has a single vein of dark blue running along its length. The blooming period occurs from early to mid-spring and lasts about 2-3 weeks. There is a strong floral fragrance that is quite pleasant. The seed capsules are oval-orbicular in shape and bumpy across the surface. They are initially green, but eventually turn brown, each one containing several seeds. The root system consists of a small bulb with secondary roots. This plant often forms vegetative colonies by offsets.
Cultivation: The preference is partial sun during the spring, mesic conditions, and a fertile loamy soil with an abundance of organic material. Siberian Squill adapts well to deciduous woodlands and naturalizes easily. It also adapts to sunny grassy areas. The foliage dies down by early summer. At wet locations, crown rot can become a problem. Different horticultural varieties of this plant exists, including one with white flowers.
Range & Habitat: Siberian Squill is an uncommon plant that occurs in only a few counties in Illinois, primarily in the east-central region of the state. It was introduced into the United States from Eurasia as a horticultural plant because of its attractive flowers. Habitats include disturbed grassy areas, areas along railroads, flower gardens, and deciduous woodlands. While it may occur in sunny sites, this is primarily a spring-blooming plant of deciduous woodlands. The small dormant bulbs have the capacity to survive major earth-moving operations, and may reestablish themselves wherever the soil is dumped. Siberian Squill is more robust and more likely to naturalize than many other spring-blooming flowers from bulbs, but it is not particularly aggressive. At a favorable site, a few plants may form a sizeable colony after several decades.
Faunal Associations: The fragrant flowers are very attractive to various kinds of bees. The foliage and seed capsules are avoided by mammalian herbivores because they contain pyrrolizidine and other toxic alkaloids. Except for the attractiveness of the flowers to bees, the ecological value of this wildflower to fauna is low.
Photographic Location: Busey Woods in Urbana, Illinois, where there are about 2 small colonies of plants that have persisted for about 30-40 years. They occur in an area where the remnants of a downtown area were dumped in the woodlands in preparation for the development of a new mall.
Comments: This is one of the first wildflowers to bloom in deciduous woodlands. The flowers are attractive in appearance and they have a lovely fragrance. Siberian Squill doesn't conform to the popular stereotype of a 'weed.' However, because this introduced plant that has the potential to displace native plants, many ecologists would regard it as a weedy plant for this reason, regardless of its attractiveness and ephemeral nature. Siberian Squill has a distinctive appearance and is easy to identify. It differs from Camassia spp. (Wild Hyacinths) in having stiffer leaves and by producing only a single nodding flower on each stalk. Some varieties of Siberian Squill may produce racemes of 2-3 flowers on some stalks, but such racemes are shorter and have fewer flowers than the racemes of Wild Hyacinths. While the tepals of Siberian Squill are single-veined, the tepals of Wild Hyacinths usually have 3 veins and their flowers don't nod downward.