Photo and article by Donna Iverson
As the snow melts and the temperatures rise, I find myself scanning the ground for any sign of a bloom. First come snowdrops, crocus, and then hyacinth. The colors unfold in shades of white, blue, yellow and purple.
Barely noticeable unless you look for them, these small spring flowers push up from the ground when everything else is still weeks away from budding. They have all the look of wild flowers and emerge from bulbs and corms planted in yard or garden in the fall.
The regal dark purple Dutch or common garden hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis) blooms in March before the trees bud or the grass turns green. It is one of the easiest spring bulbs to grow and its flowers are so fragrant that the French incorporate it into their perfumes. When the Dutch got their hands on it, they bred over 2000 cultivars from this Middle Eastern native.
In addition to dark purple, Dutch hyacinth comes in shades of blue, pink, yellow and even red. It is not partial to soil pH, needs no fertilizer and lives about three to four years. Squirrels and rodents love it but if you plant near daffodils, which they avoid, it may be protected. It is also a popular bulb for forcing on your kitchen windowsill in the spring.
While the Dutch hyacinth is the most recognizable and popular, there are three other varieties that are less well known. They are the Wood hyacinth (Hyacinthoides hispanica) , the Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) and the wild hyacinth (Camassia scilloides), which is native to the Great Lakes region.
According to my gardening Twin Lake cousin, squirrels devour her Dutch hyacinths while leaving her favorite Wood hyacinths alone.
Found in open woods and along streams, the wild hyacinth is a member of the lily family unlike her cousins which are members of the asparagus family. But like her cousins, the wild hyacinth attracts pollinators including bees and butterflies and is heavily scented. Lucky the hiker who crosses its path in one of Michigan’s many woods and state forests.