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Maritime squill has a large bulb, which grows near the surface and bears a rosette of broad, thick leaves in spring. In early autumn, after the leaves have died down, the inflorescence emerges as a tall spike-like raceme of small, whitish flowers, opening in succession from the base. The flowers are insect- and wind-pollinated. The bulbs flower particularly freely after a bush or grass fire. Drimia maritima is the commonest of the three European species of Drimia, a genus which is well-represented in the Cape in South Africa (where there are about 50 species), and in the tropics.

Drimia maritima (maritime squill)

[KSP]

Kew Species Profiles

General Description
In late summer and autumn, the tall flowering spikes of the maritime squill are a conspicuous feature of dry, barren hillsides in coastal areas around the Mediterranean.

Maritime squill has a large bulb, which grows near the surface and bears a rosette of broad, thick leaves in spring. In early autumn, after the leaves have died down, the inflorescence emerges as a tall spike-like raceme of small, whitish flowers, opening in succession from the base. The flowers are insect- and wind-pollinated. The bulbs flower particularly freely after a bush or grass fire. Drimia maritima is the commonest of the three European species of Drimia, a genus which is well-represented in the Cape in South Africa (where there are about 50 species), and in the tropics.

Species Profile
Geography and distribution

Native to coastal areas of the Mediterranean region (where it is found in France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Algeria and Morocco), at up to 300 m above sea level. Also found in the Canary Islands, southern Iran and Iraq.

Description

The bulbs (which often clump together near soil-level) are up to 20 cm in diameter and can weigh up to 1 kg. Each bulb bears about 10 dark green, leathery leaves, up to 100 cm long and 12 cm wide. The inflorescence is a dense, many-flowered raceme some 1-1.5 m tall. The flower stalks are 15-20 mm long. The flowers are 14-16 mm across, with six perianth segments, which are white with a greenish stripe. A variant form with red-tinted flowers is commonly referred to as red squill. The fruit is a capsule, 6-12 mm long, borne on an erect stalk.

Threats and conservation

Maritime squill is very common in many areas of the Mediterranean and elsewhere, but it is vulnerable to coastal urbanisation.

Uses

Drimia maritima has a long history of medicinal use. The Greek physician Dioscorides and the Greek philosopher Pythagoras used it as a protection against evil spirits and unwelcome visitors by hanging the bulb, with its leaves, outside the door in spring. The ancients were impressed by its capacity to flower without water and to thrive where grazing is particularly heavy. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates recommended it for the treatment of jaundice, convulsions and asthma. Before the introduction of digitalis, it was also used against dropsy (excess fluid in the tissues), as it stimulates the heart. D. maritima is used medicinally as a diuretic, purgative and expectorant.

The Greek scholar Theophrastus recommended its use as a rat poison. It is avoided by most other animals (on account of its very bitter taste) or else it makes them vomit, and so targets only rats, which seem undeterred from eating it. Historically, wild bulbs were dug up and chopped into small pieces and dried, then ground to produce 'powdered squill'. In 1942, two Swiss chemists showed that the rat-killing properties of D. maritima were due to the presence of the compound scilliroside. During the Second World War, and afterwards, attempts were made to develop genetic strains of maritime squill with high scilliroside content, and experimental field trials were established in the United States, but the project was abandoned in 1960. However, by the 1980s maritime squill was once again being suggested as a potential new crop for small farmers in the United States, particularly as rats were becoming resistant to the anticoagulant poisons then in general use.

Traditionally, the bulbs have also been used as an insect repellent, and the cut-flowers are used in floristry.

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

Description of seeds: Average 1,000 seed weight = 5.98 g

Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: 10

Seed storage behaviour: Orthodox (the seeds of this plant survive drying without significant reduction in their viability, and are therefore amenable to long-term frozen storage such as at the MSB)

Germination testing: 100% germination was achieved on a medium of 1% agar, at a temperature of 11 °C, on a cycle of 12 hours daylight/12 hours darkness.

This species at Kew

Flowering specimens of maritime squill can be seen in the Davies Alpine House during the autumn.

Pressed and dried specimens of many Drimia species are held in Kew's Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details of some of these can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.

Distribution
France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Turkey
Ecology
Rocky hills in coastal areas.
Conservation
Not known to be threatened.
Hazards

All parts of the plant contain cardiac glycosides which are poisonous to humans, rodents and most grazing animals.

[KSP]
Use
Medicinal, rodenticide, insect repellent, and as a protective charm.

Native to:

France, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Spain

English
Maritime squill

Drimia maritima (L.) Stearn appears in other Kew resources:

First published in Ann. Mus. Goulandris 4: 204 (1978)

Accepted by

  • Chaudhary, S.A. (2001). Flora of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 3: 1-368. Ministry of Agriculture & Water, Riyadh.
  • Dimopoulos, P., Raus, T., Bergmeier, E., Constantinidis, T., Iatrou, G., Kokkini, S., Strid, A., & Tzanoudakis, D. (2013). Vascular plants of Greece. An annotated checklist: 1-372. Botanic gardens and botanical museum Berlin-Dahlem, Berlin and Hellenic botanical society, Athens.
  • Dobignard, D. & Chatelain, C. (2010). Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 1: 1-455. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève.
  • Govaerts, R. (2000). World Checklist of Seed Plants Database in ACCESS D: 1-30141.

Literature

Kew Species Profiles

  • Baumann, H. (1993). Greek Wild Flowers and Plant Lore in Ancient Greece. Herbert Press, London.
  • Chevalier, A. (1953). Action raticide des extraits de la Scille maritime d'Algerie ou Urginea maritima (L.) Baker. Rev. Int. Bot. Appl. Agric. Trop. 33: 598-599.
  • Crabtree, D.G. (1947). Red squill – most specific of the raticides. Econ. Bot.1: 394-401.
  • Edmondson, J.R. (1984). Urginia Steinh. In: Flora of Turkey Volume 8, ed. P.H. Davis, p. 213. Edinburgh.
  • Galt, A.H. & Galt, J.W. (1978). Peasant use of some wild plants on the island of Pantelleria, Sicily. Econ. Bot. 32: 20-26.
  • Gentry, H.S., Verbiscar, A.J. & Banigan, T.F. (1987). Red squill ( Urginea maritima, Liliaceae). Econ. Bot. 41: 267-282.
  • Mabberley, D.J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: A Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses. Third edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. (2008) Seed Information Database (SID). Version 7.1.
  • Sims, J. (1806). Ornithogalum squilla. Curtis’s Bot. Mag. 23: tab. 918.
  • Stearn, W.T. (1978). Mediterranean and Indian species of Drimia (Liliaceae): a nomenclatural survey with special reference to the medicinal squill, D. maritima (syn. Urginia maritima). Ann. Mus. Goulandris 4: 199–210.
  • Townsend, C.C. & Guest, E. (eds) (1985). Flora of Iraq. Volume 8: Monocotyledons excluding Gramineae (Hutchinson, 1959). Ministry of Agriculture & Agrarian Reform, Baghdad.
  • World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2010). The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Kew Backbone Distributions

  • Speta, F. (1980). Karyosystematik, Kultur und Verwendung de Meerzwiebel (Urginea Steinh., Liliaceae s.l.) Linzer Biologische Beiträge 12: 193-238.

Kew Backbone Distributions
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
© Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
© Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Kew Science Photographs
Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Kew Species Profiles
Kew Species Profiles
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0