This section is from the book "Handbook Of Hardy Trees, Shrubs, And Herbaceous Plants", by W. Botting Hemsley. Also available from Amazon: Handbook of hardy trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants.
This genus contains about 30 species, chiefly from the Mediterranean region and South Africa. Few authors agree as to its limits, but for our purpose it may be characterised as follows: Flowers drooping, variable in number, disposed in loose leafless spikes; perianth-segments flat, united to about the middle and erect or recurved; stamens 6; filaments straight; anthers versatile. Capsule 3-celled, many-seeded. It differs from Scilla in the perianth - seg-ments being united to the middle, whereas in the latter and its allies they are free or nearly so. The name is of mythological origin.
1. H. orientalis (fig. 255). - The species of paramount interest and the progenitor of all the beautiful varieties of our gardens and greenhouses. It is, as its name implies, a native of the East, and was introduced into Europe three or four centuries ago; but nowhere has it been cultivated with the same success as in Holland. Indeed, every gardener is familiar with the term 'Dutch bulbs,' of which the numerous varieties of the Hyacinth form a very important part. Hyacinths are chiefly exported from Haarlem. Upwards of 100 acres of land in the neighbourhood of this town are annually devoted to the exclusive culture of theee plants, and millions of bulbs are yearly sent to England, France, and Germany. This extraordinary success is due chiefly to the patient care which the Dutch expend upon them, and then the perfect suitability of the soil and climate - conditions not met with to the same degree elsewhere, and which probably will assure them the monopoly of this branch of floriculture for some time to come yet.
Fig. 255. Hyacinthus orientalis. (1/3 nat. size.)
The nature of the soil in the vicinity of Haarlem and other parts appropriated to the culture of bulbous plants is quite peculiar. Situated at the base of the Dunes, which form a natural breakwater on the Dutch coast, it is composed like them of a deposit of sand mingled with alluvial mud. Besides which it is full of fresh water, which reaches it by infiltration, and appears at a depth of 3 to 6 feet according to the situation. This water rises to the roots of the plants by means of the capillarity of the soil, and just in proportion to their needs. On the other hand, this porosity of the soil allows the rain-water to escape freely. These conditions, coupled with a mild climate and cloudy sky, are eminently favourable to the growth and flowering of this class of plants, and are almost unattainable out of the Netherlands.
The extent of variation in Hyacinths is almost unlimited in the colour, size, doubleness, and odour of the flowers. White, cream, flesh, pink, rose, lilac, bright red, carmine, crimson, purple, violet, slate, gray, and blue of various shades to nearly black, are found both in the single and double varieties; and either more or less fragrant or quite scentless. There are also striped and shaded varieties, and some of the white ones have a purple, red, violet or yellow eye. A list of even the best varieties of the present time would be of so little service in a year or two that we prefer retaining the space it would occupy, especially as good descriptive catalogues are annually published by all the leading florists. They rank amongst the best of hardy bulbs for embellishing the borders and beds in Spring, as they retain their beauty for a long period.
H. amethystinus is a pretty little species from the South of Europe with loose spikes of smaller bright blue flowers on slender pedicels, and linear leaves equalling or exceeding the flower-scape. It is quite hardy and flowers in April and May. It is sometimes called the Spanish Hyacinth.
H. Romanics, syn. Bellevalia operculata, etc., Roman Hyacinth, with white or pale blue flowers, although hardy, is chiefly employed for early forcing. It is from the Mediterranean countries.
Puschkinia scilloides is a dwarf Spring-flowering bulbous herb about 6 inches high with linear-lanceolate leaves and a loose spike of campanulate white- and blue-striped flowers. Perianth-segments oblong, united at the base into a short tube. Filaments united to very near the top. Native of Southern Russia.