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Cultivar of Hyacinthus orientalis
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Asparagaceae
Subfamily: Scilloideae
Genus: Hyacinthus
Tourn. ex L.
Type species
Hyacinthus orientalis

See text.

Hyacinthus /ˌhəˈsɪnθəs/[1] is a small genus of bulbous herbs, spring-blooming perennials.[2][3] They are fragrant flowering plants in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Scilloideae[4] and are commonly called hyacinths (/ˈhəsɪnθs/). The genus is native predominantly to the Eastern Mediterranean region from the south of Turkey to the Palestine region, although naturalized more widely.[5]

Several species of Brodiaea, Scilla, and other plants that were formerly classified in the Liliaceae family and have flower clusters borne along the stalk also have common names with the word "hyacinth" in them. Hyacinths should also not be confused with the genus Muscari, which are commonly known as grape hyacinths.


Hyacinthus grows from bulbs, each producing around four to six narrow untoothed leaves and one to three spikes or racemes of flowers. In the wild species, the flowers are widely spaced, with as few as two per raceme in H. litwinovii and typically six to eight in H. orientalis which grows to a height of 15–20 cm (6–8 in). Cultivars of H. orientalis have much denser flower spikes and are generally more robust.[6]


The genus name Hyacinthus was attributed to Joseph Pitton de Tournefort when used by Carl Linnaeus in 1753.[5] It is derived from a Greek name used for a plant by Homer, ὑάκινθος (hyákinthos), the flowers supposedly having grown up from the blood of a youth of this name killed by the god Zephyr out of jealousy.[7] The original wild plant known as hyakinthos to Homer has been identified with Scilla bifolia,[8] among other possibilities. Linnaeus defined the genus Hyacinthus widely to include species now placed in other genera of the subfamily Scilloideae, such as Muscari (e.g. his Hyacinthus botryoides)[9] and Hyacinthoides (e.g. his Hyacinthus non-scriptus).[10]

Hyacinthus was formerly the type genus of the separate family Hyacinthaceae; prior to that, the genus was placed in the lily family Liliaceae.[11]


Three species are placed within the genus Hyacinthus:[5]

Some authorities place H. litwonovii and H. transcaspicus in the related genus Hyacinthella,[13] which would make Hyacinthus a monotypic genus.


The genus Hyacinthus is considered native to the eastern Mediterranean from southern Turkey to the region of Palestine, including Lebanon and Syria, and on through Iraq and Iran to Turkmenistan.[5] It is widely naturalized elsewhere, including Europe (Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Sardinia, Sicily and former Yugoslavia), Cyprus, North America (California, Pennsylvania, Texas), central Mexico,the Caribbean (Cuba, Haiti) and Korea.[5]


The Dutch, or common hyacinth, of house and garden culture (H. orientalis, native to Southwest Asia) was so popular in the 18th century that over 2,000 cultivars were grown in the Netherlands, its chief commercial producer. This hyacinth has a single dense spike of fragrant flowers in shades of red, blue, white, orange, pink, violet or yellow. A form of the common hyacinth is the less hardy and smaller blue- or white-petalled Roman hyacinth. These flowers need full sunlight and should be watered moderately.[14]


The inedible bulbs contain oxalic acid and may cause mild skin irritation. Protective gloves are recommended.[15]

Some members of the plant subfamily Scilloideae are commonly called hyacinths but are not members of the genus Hyacinthus and are edible; one example is the tassel hyacinth, which forms part of the cuisine of some Mediterranean countries.[16]


Nowruz Sonbol (Hyacinth)

Hyacinths are often associated with spring and rebirth.[citation needed] The hyacinth flower is used in the Haft-Seen table setting for the Persian New Year celebration, Nowruz, held at the spring equinox. The Persian word for hyacinth is سنبل (sonbol), meaning 'cluster'.

The name ὑάκινθος (hyakinthos) was used in Ancient Greece for at least two distinct plants, which have variously been identified as Scilla bifolia or Orchis quadripunctata and Consolida ajacis (larkspur).[17] Plants known by this name were sacred to Aphrodite.[18]

The hyacinth appears in the first section of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land during a conversation between the narrator and the "hyacinth girl" that takes place in the spring.[19]

You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
"They called me the hyacinth girl."
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.

In Roman Catholic tradition, H. orientalis represents prudence, constancy, desire of heaven and peace of mind.[20]


The colour of the blue flower hyacinth plant varies between 'mid-blue',[21] violet blue and bluish purple. Within this range can be found Persenche, which is an American color name (probably from French), for a hyacinth hue.[22] The colour analysis of Persenche is 73% ultramarine, 9% red and 18% white.[23]


See also[edit]

  • Tekhelet - meaning "bluish violet" or "blue" in Hebrew, was translated as hyakinthos (Greek: ὑακίνθος, "hyacinth").


  1. ^ "Hyacinthus". Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary.
  2. ^ "Are Hyacinths Perennials?".
  3. ^ "Are Hyacinths Perennials?".
  4. ^ Stevens, P.F. "Angiosperm Phylogeny Website: Asparagales: Scilloideae". Mobot.org. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Hyacinthus Tourn. ex L." Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 2023-11-11.
  6. ^ Beckett, K., ed. (1993), Encyclopaedia of Alpines : Volume 1 (A–K), Pershore, UK: AGS Publications, ISBN 978-0-900048-61-6 pp. 656–657.
  7. ^ Hyam, R. & Pankhurst, R.J. (1995), Plants and their names : a concise dictionary, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-866189-4
  8. ^ Lindsell, Alice, Was Theocritus a botanist? in Raven, John E. (2000), Raven, Faith; Stearn, William T.; Jardine, Nicholas & Frasca-Spada, Marina (eds.), Plants and Plant Lore in Ancient Greece, Oxford: Leopard's Head Press, p. 27, ISBN 978-0-904920-40-6, p. 68
  9. ^ "Hyacinthus botryoides", World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, retrieved 2013-03-20
  10. ^ "Hyacinthus non-scriptus", World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, retrieved 2013-03-20
  11. ^ Hyacinthaceae, Tolweb.org, retrieved 2011-03-20
  12. ^ "Hyacinthus orientalis".
  13. ^ Czerepanov, S.K. (1995), Vascular Plants of Russia and Adjacent States (the Former USSR), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-45006-5, cited in World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, retrieved 2011-10-07, under Hyacinthella litwinovii and Hyacinthella transcaspica
  14. ^ "☀️ What are the Light Needs for Roman hyacinth in Gardening? (Type, Characteristics, and Warning Signals)". PictureThis. Retrieved 2024-06-27.
  15. ^ "Home Forcing of Hyacinths", North Carolina State University Horticulture Information, archived from the original on 2013-04-04, retrieved 2013-03-20
  16. ^ "Traditional Foods of Puglia Italy-Cooking Lampascioni Hyacinth Bulbs". Italian Connection. 2010-04-27. Retrieved 2024-06-27.
  17. ^ Raven (2000), p. 27.
  18. ^ Kurke, Leslie (1999). Coins, bodies, games, and gold : the politics of meaning in archaic Greece. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 192. ISBN 0691007365.
  19. ^ "The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot". Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. 2018-09-05. Retrieved 2018-09-05.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  20. ^ "Signs and Symbols". catholictradition.org. Retrieved 2019-01-22.
  21. ^ Mathew, Brian (1987), The Smaller Bulbs, London: B.T. Batsford, ISBN 978-0-7134-4922-8
  22. ^ "(M)". Archived from the original on 2015-09-17. Retrieved 2015-09-24.
  23. ^ Funk & Wagnell's New Standard Dictionary (1942), under spectrum color list.

Further reading[edit]

  • Coccoris, Patricia (2012) The Curious History of the Bulb Vase. Published by Cortex Design.

External links[edit]