Hyacinth Fact File
Hyacinths are perennial flowering plants originating from the East Mediterranean. As well their characteristic bell-shaped flowers with reflexed petals, they can also be recognised by their highly fragrant scent. Hyacinths once formed part of the Liliaceae family but now belong to a separate family called Hyacinthaceae. There are three species within the genus Hyacinthus: the Hyacinthus orientalis, the Hyacinthus litwinowii and the Hyacinthus transcaspicus. Each species comes in a variety of colours including shades of orange, violet, blue, yellow, pink, red and white and bloom in dense single clusters from the beginning of April until the end of May.
Grape Hyacinths, also known as ‘baby’s breath’, also form part of the Hyacinthaceae tribe. This perennial flower, instantly recognisable by its blue bell-shaped cluster of flowers that resembles a bunch of grapes, originates from Eurasia. Like Hyacinths, Grape Hyacinths also grow in large clusters but tend to be more resilient as they require little feeding, water and sunlight to thrive.
The bulbs of Hyacinths have papery, skin-like layers which are poisonous in their fresh state. However, the plant’s viscous juices are ideal for forming a thick paste or glue which has had many useful purposes over the years from attaching feathers to deadly hunting arrows to binding the pages of some of history’s most influential books. Their roots, once dried and powdered, also contain many useful properties that can be used for medicinal purposes. To this day, dried Hyacinth roots provide the best natural remedies for diseases like leucorrhoea.
For the Victorians, Hyacinths symbolised sport, play and sincerity. However, Greek Mythology has also given them more sorrowful connotations of grief and mourning inspired by the story of Hyacinth, Apollo and Zephyrus. Hyacinth was a handsome and charismatic Greek hero who was loved by two Gods – Apollo and Zephyr. When it became clear that Hyacinth preferred Apollo’s affections, Zephyrus could not suppress his rage and jealousy and killed Hyacinth out of spite. A devastated and grief-stricken Apollo would not let his lover’s body be reclaimed by the earth and, instead, made a flower from Hyacinth’s spilled blood.
These negative connotations have not hindered the Hyacinth’s popularity. In the 16th century the common Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis) was brought over to Europe from Anatolia, where it began to be cultivated commercially. By the 18th century it became so popular that the Netherlands – its chief commercial producer – cultivated over 2,000 types to keep up with demand. Though just a beautiful, these common types are much less hardy than the other species and subsequently need to be kept away from direct sunlight and watered more frequently.
Today, Hyacinth flowers remain as popular as ever. In fact, they are held in such high regard that an entire day is dedicated to them each year – World Hyacinth Day is celebrated on 7th March.