977 Hyacinthus orientalisCommon Names: hyacinth, Dutch hyacinth, Roman hyacinth Family: Liliaceae (lily Family)
The hyacinth is a bulbous perennial herb in the lily family, grown for its showy and fragrant springtime flower display. Four to six shiny narrow straplike leaves and a central flower stalk emerge from the squat subterranean bulb in early to mid spring. The 12 in (30.5 cm) stalk is crowded with colorful flowers that, depending on cultivar, may be red, orange, pink, yellow, white, lavender or blue. The individual flowers are funnel shaped, single or double, and the six lobes may be strongly reflexed to merely spreading. Many have intensely sweet fragrances. There are more than 60 cultivars available. Those in the Multiflora Group have several flowering stalks. Roman hyacinth (H. orientalis var. albulus) is smaller than the typical form, and has blue or white flowers that aren't as crowded on the stalk.
The hyacinth hails originally from the Mediterranean region, from North Africa, through Greece, to Asia Minor and Syria. The wild ones grow on rocky hillsides from near sea level to over 8000 ft (2438 m) elevation.
CulturePlant bulbs in the autumn with their bottoms 5-6 in (1.5-1.8 cm) beneath the surface; deeper in the most northern parts of their hardiness range. Light: Grow hyacinths in full sun in zones 3-6, and partial shade, keeping the bulbs cool in summer, in zones 7-9. Moisture: Provide normal watering during growth, but let overwintering bulbs dry out. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 9. Hyacinths really do best in cool climates. South of zone 7 they should be thought of as annuals. Propagation: Propagate new plants from the little offsets that develop on older bulbs. Harvest these when the plant is dormant in late summer. Cutting crosswise slits on a mature bulb before planting will stimulate production of offsets. Note that it will take a new offset bulblet 2-3 years to reach flowering size.
Hyacinths bloom in mid spring about the same time as the midseason tulips with which they are often associated. Hyacinths are formal flowers: use them massed in beds and borders. They are less effective in naturalized settings or in mixed plantings. Remove spent flowers so the plant will put its energy into its bulb rather than the fruit. Hyacinths may be grown in pots for indoor display in late winter. In autumn, bury a bulb or two with the tops just at the surface in a deep 5 in (12.7 cm) pot. Keep in the refrigerator or outside (temperatures must be below 45ºF, but above freezing) for 10-12 weeks, until a good mass of roots has formed. Then bring the pot into a warmer environment where the temperature is about 50ºF (10ºC) until a strong stocky shoot about 1 in (2.5 cm) long has formed, at which time the pot may be brought into the warm home for flowering. Be careful to avoid over watering throughout the process. After flowering, the bulbs can be planted out in the garden for flowering in subsequent years. Hyacinth glasses are vases made especially for forcing hyacinths in water instead of soil. A lip around the top of the vase holds the bulb down so that its bottom is in water. The process is quicker than forcing in soil, and more fun to watch.
Be sure to plant enough hyacinths so that some may be brought inside as cut flowers. Certain French perfumes are made from hyacinths cultivated specifically for the purpose.
According to Homer, the hyacinth first grew from where the blood of Hyakinthos, the youthful warrior accidentally killed by Apollo, was shed upon the ground. Other members of the lily family, including grape hyacinth (Muscari spp.); summer hyacinth (Galtonia candicans); Spanish hyacinth (Brimeura amethystinus); and members of the genus Bellevalia, were formerly classified in Hyacinthus, but that genus is now considered to include just three species: common hyacinth (H. orientalis), and the less well known species: H. litwinowii and H. transcaspicus.
Contact with hyacinth bulbs can cause severe skin irritation in certain sensitive people, and all parts cause stomach pains if ingested.
Steve Christman 8/28/03; updated 11/11/03, 1/26/04