Blue is not a colour we see often in flowers – I can only think of a few blue-flowering plants: delphiniums, agapanthus, hydrangeas, cornflowers, bluebells of course, and today’s plant, the Grape hyacinth (Muscari sp.). The scarcity of blue flowers is due to plants having no true blue pigment so they must perform a degree of chemical manipulation to make the colour. According to author David Lee, who wrote Nature’s Palette: The science of plant color (University of Chicago Press, 2010), ‘Plants tweak, or modify, [their] red anthocyanin pigments to make blue flowers. They do this through a variety of modifications involving pH shifts and mixing of pigments, molecules and ions.’
That knowledge makes me appreciate even more the delicate Grape hyacinths that are currently adorning many of my neighbours’ gardens and blooming prolifically at the local cemetery. They are probably Muscari armenaicum – muscari comes from the Greek muschos, referring to their musky scent, and armenaicum is a clue to their area of origin, Armenia and the meadows and woodlands of the eastern Mediterranean right through to the Caucasus. The Grape hyacinth was first cultivated in European gardens in the 1870s but spreads freely and rapidly so has become naturalised in Britain, much of Europe and North America.