A flower that signals the end of summer

Do you remember the geophyte that mysteriously appeared in the garden and that I wrote of some days ago? Well, it has more than doubled its height – it’s now 65 cm high and has a few flowers blossoming at the bottom of the spike. I didn’t detect any scent this morning, but each delicate minute bell-shaped flower is exquisite. Six tepals — white with a maroon stripe on the outside with yellow-green raised linear petals running towards the centre. I wouldn’t mind earrings made to their exact shape and colour.

Sea squill flowers zoom fab_4381

Sea squill flwrs zoom fab_4379

Thanks to the web replying to my enquiry worded thus — purple stem, summer Mediterranean geophyte — I now have the solution to my garden mystery. This elegant geophyte is the sea squill, or Urginea maritima var. rubra.

Sea squill full


It is one of the largest known bulbs – up to 25 cm in diameter — and is found throughout the Mediterranean, particularly along the coast. Although our mountain location is a good 500 meters above the sea and 20 km away, a seed has managed to find its way up here. How fortunate am I? Now that I recall, I did see some fleshy green leaves looking like tulip foliage at that spot when we moved in, and I was waiting for a tulip-like flower, but nothing came up. This is apparently the sea squill’s characteristic phenology — leaves all throughout autumn and winter. Then it rests, until all other flowers around it have gone sere, and it puts out its flower spike when it has the field (and observers’ attention and pollinators) all to itself. All parts are toxic and, as is common with some other poisonous plants, once had a medicinal function as a cardiac stimulant. This website presents an extensive description of this elegant flower and even recounts an ancient Biblical custom of marking property boundaries with the bulbs.

According to Mediterranean folklore, the sea squill is a harbinger of autumn: when it has done blooming, summer is over. Temperatures over the past few days have been getting milder, and this morning was a cool 20°C. Summer does seem to be feeling its way out as autumn starts to creep in. I would be feeling a bit sad, were it not that autumn is the ideal time to plant in the Mediterranean and other places with a similar climate. Rain in these regions usually falls throughout autumn and winter — hopefully sometime soon — ending the dry season that began in March/April. You can see how dry it has been in my garden, aside from the oleander hedge and trees, and the occasional stalwart wild chicory. And the herbs of course. It is time for me to start bringing in more trees and plants for planting. And hopefully by this time next year, the sea squill will have some green companions surrounding it.

Sea squill spike tip fab

The lovely geometry of the sea squill’s buds

Wishing you all a brilliant start to the week! And if you’re planning a garden like me, happy plant dreaming!



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