wild hyacinth defined in 1912 yearwild hyacinth - WILD HYACINTH (Scilla nutans);
wild hyacinth - "Sapphire Queen of the mid-May." Keats' beautiful epithet rings in our ears as we look in May-time on some wood flooded with hyacinthian blueness, for it is a sight of purest joy, and the myriads of waving blue bells might well be the blueness of the sea overflowing and laving the tree-trunks. In this celestial-hued sea did Aphrodite bathe when she sought to heighten her charms in the eyes of Paris, and win the prize for beauty.
And this deep, pure blueness is the keynote of the Hyacinth's charm. For its sake true lovers claim the flower as a symbol - "Hyacinth is for constancy wi' its unchanging hue," says Scotland's premier poet - and by them alone should it be worn. The name Harebell for this plant is a very old one. Gerard gives "Harebel" as an alternative to its then common one of "Jacinth" - "the English Jacinth." Curiously the name Jacinth for Hyacinth has quite gone out of vogue now.
Tradition associates the flower with the Hyacinth of the ancients, that flower of grief and mourning round which some beautiful myths have gathered. The story runs that Hyacinthus was a charming and handsome Spartan youth whom both Apollo and Zephyrus loved. Hyacinthus naturally preferred the Sun God to the God of the West Wind, much to the chagrin of the latter, who sought to be revenged. One day when Apollo was playing quoits with the youth, a quoit that he threw was blown by Zephyrus out of its proper course in such a way that it struck and killed Hyacinthus. Apollo, stricken with grief, endeavoured to revive the victim but in vain, and the only solace he had was to raise from his blood a purple flower on which the letters "ai" "ai" were traced, so that the cry of woe might for evermore have existence on the earth. There are those who read this legend merely as an allegory. The beautiful Hyacinthus, they say, is really the personification of Spring, for whom both Sun and Wind catered. The Sun, however, wins the greater favour, but with his golden orb at length kills Spring, and a flower - the type of Summer - takes his place. True it is that as the Hyacinth dies at the end of May, spring passes and summer is here.
Another legend tells that when Achilles died Ulysses and Ajax contended for the honour of bearing his arms. To Ulysses was the honour given, and Ajax thereupon stabbed himself, and from his blood there rose the memorial Hyacinth bearing on its petals the two first letters of the hero's name.
In our native English variety of Hyacinth we cannot find a trace of these mystic letters, and so our older botanists called it "Hyacinthus nonscriptus," a name which gave way to that of Scilla nutans when the plant was placed in the lily group. It is but fair to state that other flowers, such as the gladiolus and the martagon lily, have been put forward as more nearly answering the description of "the flower that sad embroidery wears," but nevertheless no other plant has ever effectually and finally displaced it.
Apart from legendary interest the plant as a whole has many points of note about it. In the first place it forms a bulb - that is, a greatly swollen and altered stem, clothed in scale-leaves and with a tuft of roots proceeding from its base. This bulb is a storehouse where the plant puts away reserve food-material for the time of flowering when a special drain is made upon its resources. Until that hour arrives the plant continues to "save up." It is the presence of this reserve nutriment that allows the bulb to throw up leaves and flowers when it is merely grown in water alone.
When the leaves first begin to push upwards through the soil the leading one is transformed into an actual ground-auger for boring its way, but when fully formed they are long and strap-shaped, their upper surfaces concave and forming deep channels. When the rain falls upon them it runs down them as down a watercourse, and is conducted straight to the bulb, overflowing just round the spot where the roots strike downwards.
Root, stem and leaves are filled with a slimy mucilage. Gerard suggests that this "glew" will serve "to set feathers upon arrows," or to paste books with, and that of it "is made the best starch next unto that of brake-robin roots."
The flowering stalk is called the "scape," and when it first grows up in the centre of the leaves the flower buds all stand upright upon it. The lowest matures first, and as it does so falls over and hangs, the others follow in turn. Each flower has six coloured floral leaves, all alike, and though at a cursory glance, as the illustration shows, they all appear united into a bell, they are really quite separate almost to their base. At the tip each curls backwards, and this curling has led the poets to describe curly hair as "hyacinthian." Inside the blue bell the stamens are set, one on each segment, a long and a short one alternating. In the centre is the seed-case, divided into three chambers, each containing two columns of ovules. From the top of it a long column rises.
The scent of the Wild Hyacinth is very sweet and powerful. The old herbalists speak of it with qualified admiration. "A strong, sweet smell somewhat stuffing the head," says Gerard; "of a sweetish but heady scent," remarks Parkinson; but a modern poet (F. A. Homfray) writes more appreciatively: -
"I scarce believe mere odour sweet
So rich a joy of soul could bring,
Or make in one sensation meet
All rapture of the Spring."
But though the flower makes so powerful an appeal with its scent, it has no real honey within it that we can detect; still it does not allure insects to their complete disappointment, for its tender blue tissues are full of sweet and luscious juices, and bees and butterflies pierce them with their probosces and then sip with pleasure.
After fertilisation the flowers wither, and the ovary swells and eventually becomes dry and like parchment. The walls of the chambers give way, the seeds rattle within; the flower-stalk raises the capsule from its drooping position, and at the top an opening forms. The wind sways the whole spike about; first from one capsule, then from another out jerk many little black seeds, and the flower's task is done. It has produced and started in life another generation of its kind.
The Hyacinth is the flower of St. George, and an emblem of the blue of the sea. It shares with other spring flowers the name of "Cuckoo Flower," and in certain parts has the quaint additional appellation of "Cuckoo's Boots." Occasionally white Hyacinths without a trace of blue are found among the blue ones.
Individually, and as a table decoration, the Hyacinth is somewhat of a disappointment. By gaslight much of the rare beauty of its hue is lost. It is collectively, and in great masses, that it has a unique charm of its own, and then in the mists of hyacinthine blue the quivering bell-blossoms always suggest that from them fairy peals must issue though their tones are too delicate for our gross mortal ears to catch. Yet "sapphire belfries washed with dew" they surely are, and when "Spring arose in the garden fair " it was -
"the Hyacinth, purple and white and blue,
Which flung from its bells a sweet peal anew
Of music so delicate, soft and intense,
It was felt like an odour within the sense."
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near wild hyacinth in Knolik
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