978 Muscari spp.Common Names: grape hyacinth, blue bottles, feather hyacinth Family: Liliaceae (lily Family)
There are about 40 species of Muscari, the grape hyacinths. All are bulbous perennial herbs with fleshy linear or straplike basal leaves and upright flowering stalks that bear showy cone shaped clusters of nodding spherical or urn shaped flowers less than 1 in (2.5 cm) long and usually blue. The two most common species in cultivation are common grape hyacinth (M. botryoides), which has 2 to 4 6-10 in (15-25.4 cm) leaves and 12-20 spherical flowers held 6-8 in (15-20 cm) above the foliage in a dense cluster that looks like a bunch of grapes; and the slightly more robust Armenian grape hyacinth (M. armeniacum), which has 6-8 leaves and 20-40 urn shaped flowers clustered on each of 1-3 flower stalks up to 8 in (20 cm) tall. In these and most other species the flowers are produced in early spring, and the leaves don't emerge until autumn following a summer dormancy period. The leaves then persist, gradually declining, until the following spring. Cultivars of common grape hyacinth include 'Album' with fragrant white flowers; 'Carneum' with pinkish flowers; and 'Caeruleum' with bright blue flowers. Selections of Armenian grape hyacinth include 'Blue Spike' which has a branched inflorescence and large, bright blue double flowers; 'Saphire' which has long lasting (because they are sterile) blue flowers; and 'Heavenly Blue', whose flowers have a musky fragrance.
Several other species are worth mentioning: Azure grape hyacinth (M. azureum) is probably the earliest species, and one of the smallest; it has tubular blue flowers, although there is a white flowered cultivar. Blue bottles or musk hyacinth (M. racemosum, sometimes called M. neglectum, has blue-violet flowers and a sweet, musky-fruity fragrance. Nutmeg hyacinth (M. muscarimi), also known as M. moschatum) and sometimes placed in a different genus: Muscarimia moschatum), is larger and more robust than most species, and has purplish brown flowers with an intense musky fragrance. A. comosum, tassel grape hyacinth (sometimes known as Leopoldia comosa), is the strangest looking one. Its flower stalk is up to 2 ft (0.6 m) tall with pale brown urn shaped fertile flowers on the lower half, and blue filamentous sterile flowers on the upper half. The cluster of sterile flowers atop the stalk is like a tassel. The cultivar 'Monstrosum' (a.k.a. 'Plumosum'), sometimes called feather hyacinth, is even weirder: All of the flowers are sterile and threadlike, the inflorescence looking like a purple feathery plume. M. latifolium produces only one leaf and has dark violet-black lower flowers and pale blue upper flowers. M. aucheri 'Tubergenianum' has sterile pale blue flowers atop darker blue fertile flowers on an 8 in (20 cm) stalk.
The grape hyacinths are native to southwestern Asia and the Mediterranean region.
CultureMost species of grape hyacinths are easy to grow and suitable for naturalizing. They all like a well drained organic soil. Plant the bulbs 4 in (10 cm) deep in autumn. They will quickly send up leaves and then bloom the following spring. The bulbs multiply rapidly, so divide them every few years during their summer dormant period. Light: All the grape hyacinths do best in full sun, although they should be shaded from the hot sun in the more southern zones. Moisture: Water freely when in growth, but reduce watering when the bulbs are dormant and in the winter. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 10. Most of the grape hyacinths do best in cool climates. M. botryoides is hardy in zones 3 to 8; M. armeniacum, M. comosum, M. latifolium and M. racemosum in zones 4-8; M. aucheri and M. muscarimi in zones 6-9; and M. azureum is hardy in zones 8-10 Propagation: Propagate grape hyacinths from the offsets that develop on the mature bulbs. They can also be grown from seed, and many of the species will self sow. Seedlings may take 3-4 years to reach flowering size. M. armeniacum and M. racemosum self sow readily and can even become invasive under ideal conditions.
The grape hyacinths are among the most loved of spring flowering bulbs. They are at their best in masses and loose drifts, and are very attractive when allowed to naturalize under shrubs and small trees. They are often used in rock gardens, and to line paths or borders. Since the leaves persist through the winter, forgetful gardeners can rely on them to mark the location of beds and other bulbs and perennials that might be inadvertently disturbed in early spring before they have emerged.
The grape hyacinths were once classified with the true hyacinths, genus Hyacinthus, and taxonomists today are still splitting the genus. The name Muscari derives from the musklike fragrance of some of the species. Throughout the southern United States., blue bottles hyacinth is one of the earliest of the naturalized bulbs to bloom in abandoned gardens and vacant yards. They seed freely and persist even in turf.
Steve Christman 9/2/03; updated 10/12/03, 9/7/04, 2/24/05, 3/15/05