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Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008
Musukari (Grape hyacinth)
By LINDA INOKI
Grape hyacinths are only 15 to 30 cm high but, like their cousins, the tall, extravagant lilies, they also have starchy bulbs, slender leaves and wonderfully fragrant flowers. In fact, muscari owe their name to the warm "musk" perfume of their tiny, bell-like blooms. Native to Central and South-East Europe, muscari were familiar flowers in the gardens of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). In times gone by, Turkish ladies would scent their love-letters by enclosing a few of these flowers. Probably they chose flowers of the species Muscari muscarini, which has spindly flowerheads but the headiest scent. By contrast, the most popular garden species (M. botryoides) has pretty clusters of flowers and only a faint musk fragrance. It is thought that the Flemish botanist Carolus Clusius introduced muscari bulbs to northern Europe in the late 16th century (along with tulips, which are still a great passion of the Dutch). Grape hyacinth flowers are usually blue or violet, but also occur in white. At this time of year, florists often sell pots of forced bulbs as early signs of spring. The bulbs are encouraged to flower through extra doses of warmth and light. In an open, well-drained spot in the garden, a few grape hyacinth bulbs readily grow into a pretty colony of plants.