Muscari

I am only just beginning to understand how flowers are classified. Though I know that they are arranged by groups, like a family tree, it is a complicated system.  A man named Carolus Linnaeus started it all around 1730. His system gave each plant two names, one for the genus and one for the species. He grouped them together if they had the same physical characteristics. Later, others would group plants in different ways, based on their ancestors, or their DNA. The problem is that not everyone agrees on how certain species should be classified.

The Grape Hyacinth is the reason I started thinking about all of this.  Muscari is the genus which includes about 60 species of perennials commonly known as Grape Hyacinth. For our purposes, a Family is a group of Genera, which is a group of Species. That seems fairly straightforward. It got more complicated when  I tried to find out which family Muscari belongs in. Depending on who you ask, it could be Hyacinthaceae, Lilaceae or Asparagaceae. On top of all that, the Muscari genus is divided into 4 sub-genera: Botryanthus, Pseudomuscari, Leopoldia and Muscarimia. That all seems needlessly confusing, and unnecessary for me to know. What I do know is that I’ve had Grape Hyacinths in my yard for 20 years or so. They show up early in the spring, with their pretty blue flowers, and add a splash of color.

There are 60 species of Muscari, but only a few of them are widely available. In general, these grow about 10 inches tall and flower in early spring. They have clusters of flowers that look like grapes, or balloons. Mostly shades of blue, from pale blue to blackish blue, they also exist in white, yellow, brown, pink and bi-color. Muscari will grow in USDA zones 3-9. They can be forced easily, and make long lasting cut flowers. Bees are attracted to them, but deer are not.

Grape Hyacinths like well drained soil and full sun. They will naturalize easily, multiply quickly and can become invasive.  Leaves will appear in the fall, and stay through the winter. They require little feeding or watering. For the most impact they should be planted in masses. For a great example of this, check out this page by the Plant Expert.

After the flowers bloom and the leaves turn yellow, the bulbs can be lifted and divided. Little bulblets will form on the mother bulb, which can be removed and replanted. Seeds can also be collected, though some species will not come true to the parent. Also, it takes up to 3 years for plants grown from seed to flower. Some bulbs decline over time, producing less each year. Muscari is not like that, they slowly spread, increasing each year.

I’ll probably never have to worry about the Grape Hyacinths in my yard becoming invasive. They were here when we moved in 20 years ago, and I never really paid much attention. When I saw leaves come up in the fall, I figured they were weeds. Quite a few of them never got a chance to bloom. Knowing what I know now, I’ll probably be a little more careful after this.

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