The Alpine Squill is a so-called river corridor plant; its range is limited to river valleys at lower elevations. Along with the Snowdrop, the Alpine Squill is one of the first signs of spring in the Donau-Auen National Park.
The Alpine Squill is a perennial bulbous plant which grows anywhere from 5 to 20cm high. Two straight, narrow, grass-like leaves sprout from the bulb and enclose the pedicel up to around half of its full height. The straight green stem bears two to five stalk-like flowers. The petals are around 8mm long and are light grey-blue to violet. The seeds contained in the round fruit capsule are olive green when fresh and dark brown when dried. Flowering occurs from March to April.
Generally, the range of the Alpine Squill includes Southern and Central Europe, from Holland to southwest Poland. In Austria, the species may only be found in lower-lying areas and along major river valleys at sub-montane levels. The plant occurs rarely and at best sporadically in the provinces of Lower and Upper Austria, Carinthia and Styria. Because it prefers partial shade, the Alpine Squill is most likely to be found in the national park in the hardwood riparian forests but may also be occasionally spotted on wetlands meadows.
Endangerment and Conservation Status
The Alpine Squill is regionally vulnerable in the so-called "Bohemian formation", a geological zone comprising parts of Czech Republic, Upper Bavaria and Lower Austria; in the Pannonian Plain; in the Carinthian Basin; and in the valley areas of the southern and eastern Alps. In Lower Austria, all members of the Scilla bifolia family are protected at least in part. It is forbidden "to pick more than five specimens of any one species above ground and in total no larger than a small bouquet".
The Alpine Squill begins to flower starting at the beginning of March. At the base of the ovary there is a nectar gland which makes the plant very popular among flies but also honey bees. Should poor weather – rain, snowfall or sustained cold temperatures – prevent insects from visiting the plant, the wilting blossoms fold in on themselves, causing the anther to be pressed against the stigma and resulting in autogamy, or self-fertilization. The seeds exhibit an appendage specially formed for ants, who haul them away by using the appendage.
As a spring bloomer, the Alpine Squill makes best use of available light by blooming before the other deciduous trees do. The energy stored in the bulb means that the plant can form leaves quickly and thus best exploit the favourable light conditions on the woodland floor. Before the forest has turned shady, the plant has already flowered and even stored sufficient nutrients for the next season in its bulb.
A relatively high number of Scilla species are cultivated as ornamental plants. Because they have a tendency to "escape" into the wild, correct identification of the species can sometimes be difficult.