Spring Squill

Spring Squill can be found flowering on the coast from April to May.

Photo: Steve Townsend

Scientific name: Scilla verna

Other names: Spring-flowered Squill, Sea Onion

What to look for:

  • Flowers: Violet-blue
  • Leaves: Long thin curled leaves, which appear before the flowers
  • Height: 5 to 15 cm
  • Where: Clifftops in short grass on the west and north coasts of Britain
  • When: Flowers appear from April to May
  • Habit: Upright
  • Similar to: The closely-related Autumn Squill: the different flowering seasons make them more difficult to confuse with each other, although their flowering timing can overlap!

Spring Squill is a Western European native: its small clusters of blue-violet flowers are found along the west coast of Britain and in Ireland in April and May. Its preference is for the short grass and heath of rocky sea cliffs, where it is less likely to be out-competed by taller and bushier herbs: it therefore benefits from low-intensity grazing.

Like the other Scilla plants of its family (Asparagaceae – subfamily Scilloideae), this small perennial grows from a bulb. It has very linear leaves that appear before the flower. The closely-related Autumn Squill (Scilla autumnalis) flowers later in the year and is more restricted to the South West.

Did you know…?

…It is the county flower for County Down in Northern Ireland
…Spring Squill is tolerant of salt-water spray, as you would expect given its clifftop habitat.

More information and references:

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Stace, C., 2010. New Flora of the British Isles, third edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Published: May 2013, updated May 2014
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Top and lower: Steve Townsend; middle: Amanda Scott