fresh flower


These “little jewels” of the garden show the first signs of spring.

by Steven W. Brown, AIFD

Grape hyacinth
Photo courtesy of Flower Council of Holland

1 a blue spike. There are about 40 species of grape hyacinths (Muscari). Muscari armeniacum (pronounced mus-KAR-ee ar-men-ee-AH-kum) is the most common of the four or five species that are commercially available as cut flowers. Typically, Muscaris form a spike of small, dark-blue flowers that resemble small clusters of berries. Most Muscaris have a sweet scent and secrete a lot of bee-attracting nectar.

2 lily or hyacinth? Muscari is a member of the Hyacinthaceae family; however, many references classify it in the Liliaceae family. Muscaris are native to the Mediterranean region and southwest Asia. Relatives include hyacinth, Ornithogalum (star-of-Bethlehem), Scilla (squill) and Eucomis (pineapple lily).

3 name game. The genus name Muscari comes from the Greek words “moschos” or “muschio,” meaning “musk,” for the fragrance emitted by some species. The species names “armeniacum” and “botryoides” mean “of Armenia” and “like a bunch of grapes,” respectively. The common name, grape hyacinth, came about because the clusters of small, bell-shaped flowers look like clusters of upside-down grapes.

4 sticky starch. Sometimes Muscaris are called “starch hyacinths,” because their scent smells like wet starch to some.

5 something blue ... Muscaris have a lovely fragrance and are great used in bridal arrangements for “something blue.” The white varieties can substitute for lily-of-the-valley.

6 ... but not just blue. Muscaris are available in shades of blue, violet and white. Other species include:

M. azureum - more open and less “grapey” than M. armeniacum; light blue and white
M. botryoides - purple, blue or white
M. comosum (tassel hyacinth) - blue-violet, red violet
M. latifolium - two-toned light and dark blue; blue-violet and dark blackish violet
M. plumosum (feather hyacinth) - feathery plume; mauve, reddish-purple

7 frosty times. Muscaris are available in the winter and spring months, mostly December to April, from domestic sources, and October to May from Dutch sources.

8 look closely. Purchase Muscaris when the lower one-third of their “bells” are open. Look for puffy buds that show color up to the tip. The terminal “bell” should have lost its green color. The flowers will be the most fragrant when they are fresh, so be sure to smell them, too. Do not purchase them if there is any sign of browning, yellowing or rot on the flowers, stems or foliage.

9 careful touch. Unpack the stems upon arrival, and cut an inch off the ends. Dip or place the stems into a hydration solution then into a fresh flower food solution that is formulated for bulb flowers. Mist the flowers lightly, and place a soft plastic bag over them to keep humidity high. Refrigerate at 38 F. Display Muscaris in cool areas, and keep them in water to ensure freshness. Some cultivars will last two to three weeks if properly handled. Muscaris are slightly sensitive to ethylene gas.

10 not for all. All parts of this plant can be toxic if ingested; however, derivatives from some species have been used for diuretics and stimulants, as foaming agents for beverages such as root beer, in mining operations and in products such as photographic emulsions, cosmetics and shampoos. 

information from:;
Holland Technical Service Bulletin; Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University;;
and International Flower Bulb Center (IFBC),

Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 28 years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry. You may contact him by e-mail at or by phone at (415) 239-3140.

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