Pretty Puschkinia

Meet the puschkinia, an understated beauty that’s perfect for an intimate garden, planting along a path or walkway, and carpeting the ground beneath trees or shrubs. What’s more, these bulbs bloom early and tolerate light shade.

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Photo: Purdue University Extension Service

When the International Botanical Congress convenes, once every six years, one of their most important tasks is to approve changes or additions to botanical nomenclature. The congress plays a critical role in keeping the plant world organized. That said, like parents who name their children Boris or Mildred, the IBC sometimes saddles plants with truly terrible names.

A case in point is the beautiful little spring-blooming bulb, Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica. Though it sometimes goes by the common name siberian squill, even that doesn’t do justice to this bulb’s delicate beauty. According to Wikipedia, puschkinia was named for Count Apollos Apollosovich Mussin-Pushkin, a Russian botanist. (Like I said, what were his parents thinking?)

A member of the hyacinth family, Puschkinia is similar in height and growth habit to a grape hyacinth, but its individual florets are almost twice the size and are held more loosely on the stem. Puschkinia isn’t a bold flower. It reveals its beauty only to those who look closely enough to see the finely detailed, sky-blue stripes that adorn each floret. I don’t know why, but I find them miraculous.

Puschkinia bulbs are relatively small (quick to plant) and usually quite inexpensive; plant them at the same time as tulips and daffodils. Though hardy in zones 4 to 8 and adaptable enough to naturalize in a lawn, Puschkinia’s understated beauty means it’s best-suited to an intimate garden, planting along a path or walkway, and carpeting the ground beneath trees or shrubs. They bloom early and tolerate light shade.

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