Hyacinthus is a small genus of bulbous flowering plants in the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Scilloideae.
Plants are commonly called hyacinths/ˈhaɪəsɪnθs/. The genus is native to the eastern Mediterranean (from south Turkey to northern Israel), north-east Iran, and Turkmenistan.
Several species of Brodiea, Scilla, and other plants that were formerly classified in the lily family and have flower clusters borne along the stalk also have common names with hyacinth in them. Hyacinths should also not be confused with the genus Muscari, which are commonly known as grape hyacinths.
Hyacinthus grows from bulbs, each producing around four to six linear leaves and one to three spikes (racemes) of flowers. In the wild species, the flowers are widely spaced, with as few as two per raceme in H. litwinovii and typically six to eight in H. orientalis, which grows to a height of 15–20 cm (6–8 in). Cultivars of H. orientalis have much denser flower spikes and are generally more robust.
The genus name Hyacinthus was attributed to Joseph Pitton de Tournefort when used by Carl Linnaeus in 1753. It is derived from a Greek name used for a plant by Homer, Ὑάκινθος (Hyakinthos), the flowers supposedly having grown up from the blood of a youth of this name accidentally killed by the god Apollo. (The original wild plant known as hyakinthos to Homer has been identified with Scilla bifolia.) Linnaeus defined the genusHyacinthus widely to include species now placed in other genera of the subfamily Scilloideae, such as Muscari (e.g. his Hyacinthus botryoides) andHyacinthoides (e.g. his Hyacinthus non-scriptus).
Hyacinthus was formerly the type genus of the separate family Hyacinthaceae; prior to that the genus was placed in the lily family Liliaceae.
Three species are placed within the genus Hyacinthus:
• Hyacinthus litwinovii
• Hyacinthus orientalis - Common, Dutch or Garden Hyacinth
• Hyacinthus transcaspicus
Some authorities place H. litwonovii and H. transcaspicus in the related genus Hyacinthella, which would make Hyacinthus a monotypic genus.
The Dutch, or Common Hyacinth of house and garden culture (H. orientalis, native to southwest Asia) was so popular in the 18th century that over 2,000 cultivars were cultivated in theNetherlands, its chief commercial producer. This hyacinth has a single dense spike of fragrant flowers in shades of red, blue, white, orange, pink, violet, or yellow. A form of the common hyacinth is the less hardy and smaller blue- or white-petalled Roman hyacinth of florists. These flowers should have indirect sunlight and are to be moderately watered.
Hyacinth bulbs are poisonous; they contain oxalic acid. Handling hyacinth bulbs can cause mild skin irritation. Protective gloves are recommended.
Hyacinths on a Haft-Seen table
Hyacinths are sometimes associated with rebirth. The hyacinth flower is used in the Haft-Seen table setting for the Persian New Year celebration,Nowruz, held during the Spring Equinox.[according to whom?]
In Greek mythology, Hyacinth was a beautiful youth loved by both the god Apollo and the West Wind, Zephyr. Apollo and Hyacinth took turns at throwing the discus. Hyacinth ran to catch it to impress Apollo, but he was struck by the discus as it fell to the ground, and died. A twist in the tale makes the wind god Zephyrus responsible for the death of Hyacinth. The youth's beauty caused a feud between Zephyrus and Apollo. Jealous that Hyacinth preferred the radiant archery god Apollo, Zephyrus blew Apollo's discus off course, so as to injure and kill Hyacinth. Apollo did not allowHades to claim Hyacinth. Instead, Apollo made a flower, the hyacinth, from Hyacinth's spilled blood.
In Homer's Odyssey (Book 6.231), Athena gives Odysseus "thick locks, akin to the hyacinth (ὑακίνθινος) flower" in order to win his way into the city of the Phaeacians.