Muscari have their historic roots dug in across the Mediterranean, Central and Southern Europe, Northern Africa and parts of Asia. Over time quite a few species have happily travelled to Northern Europe, the United States and beyond, where they have naturalised. Where they have met with people who like them, they have also been cultivated in to a myriad of modern varieties.
The genus was at one time divided in to four subgroups; Botryanthus, Leopoldia, Muscarimia and Pseudomuscari. Leopoldia and Pseudomuscari are now each treated as a genus in their own right. Muscarimia currently sits within the Muscari genus. The Muscari genus is itself broadly equivalent to the old Botryanthus group. A quick visit to theplantlist.org reveals 229 plant name records for Muscari, only 49 of which are accepted species names. The existence of the many synonyms in the related literature can be downright confusing. It certainly makes accurate plant identification and naming an interesting pastime.
Muscari are a genus of perennial bulbous plants, whose urn shaped flowers look a little like bunches of grapes. This has earnt them the common name of ‘Grape Hyacinths’.
Brian Mathew, the great bulb guru, put it plainly in his book ‘The Smaller Bulbs’ ‘The Grape Hyacinths are a comparatively large group of species, rather difficult to distinguish in many cases, until the salient features are pointed out’.1.
The word Muscari derives from the Greek word ‘muschos’ meaning ‘musk’ and refers to the fragrance exhibited by some but no means all of the species. In each case, the hardy bulbs throw up one or a number of usually narrow leaves. With some exceptions, flowers are most commonly blue, but the range of blue, within the genus, goes from the palest hint of the colour all the way to an almost black.
Flowers are held either tightly or loosely in a raceme or cluster, which spirals around a central scape or stem. The short stalks of the flowers all attach to the scape which itself comes directly from the bulb. As the raceme ages, the spacing between flowers can increase making them appear to relax. Flowers age from the bottom to the top of the raceme. Upper flowers may be a different colour and shape to lower ones. Individual flowers are composed of six fused tepals, forming a spherical or obvoid shape. Each flower is constricted at the end which forms a mouth. The ends of the tepals around this mouth show as lobes or teeth. The teeth may be a different colour to the rest of the tepal.