Two Mediterranean plants for wintry days

A visit to the Gamble Garden in Palo Alto yesterday, where fall plants like chrysanthemums are on display, winter vegetables like lettuces and bok choy / pak choi are flourishing, and most of the garden is in transition. Several striking plants in the Mediterranean gardens, including two that are of note in the fall and winter: Drimia maritima (the sea squill, though it really should be known as the rat poison plant) and Iris unguicularis (the Algerian or winter iris).

The rat poison plant. What we saw at the Gamble yesterday was a set of handsome leathery leaves (and visible large bulbs), like these in pots:


From Wikipedia:

Drimia maritima (syn. Urginea maritima) is a species of flowering plant in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Scilloideae (formerly the family Hyacinthaceae). This species is known by several common names, including squill, sea squill, sea onion, and maritime squill. … It is native to southern Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa.

This plant grows from a large bulb which can be up to 20 cm (7.9 in) wide and weigh 1 kg (2.2 lb). Several bulbs may grow in a clump and are usually just beneath the surface of the soil. In the spring, each bulb produces a rosette of about ten leaves each up to a meter long. They are dark green in color and leathery in texture. They die away by fall, when the bulb produces a tall, narrow raceme of flowers. This inflorescence can reach 1.5–2 m (4 ft 11 in–6 ft 7 in) in height.

… This species has been used as a medicinal plant since ancient times. … The plant has also been used as a poison. It is very bitter, so most animals avoid it. Rats, however, eat it readily, and then succumb to the toxic scilliroside. … [To create a rat poison, the] bulbs are dried and cut into chips, which can then be powdered and mixed with rat bait.

(The generic name is from Greek drimys ‘acrid, pungent’.)

The Gamble plants are presumably about to have their leaves die back, to be succeeded by striking flower spikes:


The winter iris. Quite a lot of these, in different shades of blue-purple, around the Mediterranean garden:


From Wikipedia:

Iris unguicularis (also commonly known as the Algerian iris [or winter iris]) is a rhizomatous flowering plant in the genus Iris, native to Greece, Turkey, Western Syria, and Tunisia. It grows to 30 centimetres (12 in), with grassy evergreen leaves, producing pale lilac or purple flowers with a central band of yellow on the falls. The flowers appear in winter and early spring. … This plant is widely cultivated in temperate regions, and numerous cultivars have been selected for garden use

(The specific name is from Greek unguicularis ‘narrow-clawed’.)


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