Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Sicilian Squill

Sicilian squill - Scilla sicula 

The Sicilian squill is a perennial plant endemic to Malta, Sicily and Calabria in southern Italy. 

The plant grows from an underground bulb that can survive in shallow soils in valleys garigue and maquis. In Sicily and mainland Italy it is a very rare species. In Malta it used to be considered as rare but nowadays it seems to have increased and is considered as a scarce plant. In fact it does seem to be increasing. 

A few days ago I found it growing in good numbers in a valley along the south Maltese coast. In one area I found a patch of soil in which there were more than thirty plants in flower and many others plants still to flower.

The flowers are light bluish grey. Sometimes they are so light that they are nearly white. The inflorescence consists of small flowers growing around a short stem creating a pyramidal shape.   

In Maltese the Sicilian squill is known as għansar ikħal.

The scientific name of this species is Scilla sicula. The Scillas are found mostly in the hot arid regions of the Mediterranean.

Scilla is derived from the Greek word for ‘to hurt’ or ‘harm’. The name was given to this genus because of the poisonous nature of the bulbs. It is also similar to Scylla a mythical twelve-headed sea monster which in ancient times was believed to live opposite Charybdis a vortex from hell. The Greeks believed that Scylla and Charybdis lived in the Straits of Messina. When navigating through the dangerous straits Greek sailors had to decide whether to sail close to Scylla or Charybdis.

This article was published in The Times of Malta on 27 March 2014.

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