Drimia maritima (L.) Stearn

First published in Ann. Mus. Goulandris 4: 204 (1978)
This species is accepted
The native range of this species is Iberian Peninsula to Baleares, NW. Algeria. It is a bulbous geophyte and grows primarily in the subtropical biome.


IUCN Red List of Threatened Species https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/202953/18614115

LC - least concern

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.


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.


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.

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

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




Medicinal, rodenticide, insect repellent, and as a protective charm.

Common Names

Maritime squill


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