Some Cumbrian Chionodoxa and Scilla

 back to “Look out for…”

‘Chionodoxa’: such an evocative word (Greek: Glory of the Snow), it seems a shame that the genus is now generally subsumed in Scilla – by botanists, if not yet by horticulturalists.

Several species of Chionodoxa and Scilla are grown in Cumbria, and some escape, and readily propagate in grassy ground on lanesides, cemeteries, and more rarely in woodland, etc. Please records these, where established away from gardens.

The most obvious difference between Scilla and Chionodoxa is in the arrangement of the filaments of the anthers: in Scilla, these surround the ovary, and splay outward (so the anthers are separated from each other):

bifolia copy crop
Scilla: narrow and diverging anther-filaments (S. bifolia;

In Chionodoxa (below) the filaments are very wide at the base, narrowing and converging towards their tips, so that a conical structure is formed, so the anthers touch:

IMG_2537 export
Chionodoxa: broad and converging anther-filaments (Scilla (Chionodoxa) sardensis)

Check also: in Scilla (top picture), the tepals (‘petals’) are separate and arise below the ovary. In Chionodoxa (below), the perianth forms a short tube at the base before the perianth-lobes (equivalent to the tepals in Scilla) splay out. The touching anther-filaments ‘continue’ the tube upwards.

IMG_0584 sm copy
Chionodoxa: perianth a tube, then perianth-lobes spread like petals

Two similar species are Scilla sardensis  and Scilla forbesii. Both are a striking  deep blue. In both, the filaments are white (but sometimes appearing blue by reflection from the tepals), making a contrasting white ‘eye’.

Scilla sardensis (Lesser Glory-of-the-Snow): can be the larger plant of the two, and carries up to 16 flowers per stem, though often much more stunted. The perianth-segments are blue almost to the base, where a little white may ‘leak out’ from the anther-filaments. Perianth-lobes are typically in the range 8 to 10 mm [Stace].

IMG_2576 export
Scilla (Chionodoxa) sardensis, Scotby 16 March 2017
IMG_2568 export
Scilla (Chionodoxa) sardensis, vigorous plant on laneside, Scotby 16 March 2017
IMG_2551 export
Scilla (Chionodoxa) sardensis, under trees, Scotby 16 March 2017
IMG_2552 export
Scilla (Chionodoxa) sardensis, under trees, Scotby 16 March 2017
IMG_2566 export
Scilla (Chionodoxa) sardensis, laneside, Scotby 16 March 2017
IMG_2555 export
Scilla (Chionodoxa) sardensis, under trees, Scotby 16 March 2017
IMG_2525 export
Scilla (Chionodoxa) sardensis, Dalston 13 March 2017
IMG_2531 export
Scilla (Chionodoxa) sardensis, Dalston 13 March 2017

Some colonies (as below) can show variation in the amounts of white, and it is rarely clear if this results from hybridisation, inherent variability, or what.

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 23.08.37 copy
Scilla (Chionodoxa) sardensis, showing variation, Great Blencow, 10 April 2016


Scilla forbesii (Glory-of-the-Snow): typically has 4 to 12 flowers on a stem. The basal third or so of the perianth-lobes is strikingly white, making an obvious ‘white eye’. Perianth-lobes are typically in the range 10 to 15 mm [Stace].

IMG_0554 sm
(above; below) Scilla (Chionodoxa) forbesii, R. Eden in Wetheral, 5 April 2016

IMG_0559 sm


Scilla luciliae (Boissier’s Glory-of-the-Snow): The specific epithet luciliae has often been applied to related plants. There are fewer flowers per stem – often only one or two – and these are larger (perianth-lobes 12 to 20 mm [Stace]), paler, and blue-violet rather than clear blue. They tend to be held erect. The bases of the lobes are pale, but colour gradually outwards. A very beautiful plant.

Scilla luciliae, Wetheral (garden plant), 13 March 2017


Scilla siberica (sometimes spelt sibirica) (Siberian Squill): a ‘true’ Scilla, with separate tepals arising below the ovary and no ‘tube’. There are few flowers per stem, blue throughout, and these droop conspicuously, with the tepals also slightly cupping.

IMG_2513 sm
Scilla siberica, Wetheral Cemetery, 14 March 2017


Other species and hybrids which may occur escape, or be dumped, ‘in the wild’ in the county will be illustrated here if/when I receive publishable photos and details!
Thanks to Dave Hickson and John Parker for drawing attention to, and discussion of, some of these plants.

JR 16 March 2017

 back to “Look out for…”