by Stephen Mifsud
   7 Apr 2020      ()
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Prospero autumnale   (Autumn Squill)

Prospero autumnale  (ASPARAGACEAE.) 
Images for this profile are taken from the Maltese Islands at or after year 2000.

Contents Links   (Detailed Profile)

Nomenclature Morphology
Plant Description and Characters Plant Information and Uses
Images External Links
Support and sales Submit information
Website FORUM Copyright notes
Asparagaceae spp. Index Plant Family Index
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Profile Date Nov-2004 (last update: 12-Jan-2019)
Citation for this page Mifsud, S. (Nov-2004) Prospero autumnale retrieved from on 2020-Apr-07


Species name :

Prospero autumnale  (L.) Speta.

Authority :

Carl von Linne, Sweden, 1707-1778 ;
Franz Speta, Austria, 1941 -

Synonyms :

Basionym or principal synonyms: Scilla autumnalis
Full list of synonyms: [ PlantList ]   [ IPNI ]   [ Catalogue of Life ]

Plant Family :

Asparagaceae  Juss. (= Liliaceae )
(Asparagus Family)

English name(s) :

Autumn Squill, Starry Hyacinth

Maltese name(s) :

Għansar tal-Ħarifa

Status for Malta :

Indigenous. Present on the Maltese islands before man

Name Derivation :

Prospero = Prospero was one of the main characters who had one daughter called Miranda in the play "The tempest" by Shakespeare. It is not certain if tha author of this genus named it after this character. Latin);
autumnale = Related to Autumn, with reference to the flowering season (Latin). (Latin)

Remarks :

This plants was known for many decades as Scilla autumnalis L. but was recently named to Prospero autumnale (l.) Specta.

Morphology and structure



Growth Form




Erect but without a true aerial stem :

Erect flower stalk(s) and leaves grow directly from the true underground stem such as rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs.

Single, unbranched scape :

Plant forms a single, leafless, robust, unbranched flowering stalk (=scape) which is often found growing from underground tubers, rhizomes, bulbs or corms.

Glabrous :

Smooth; without any hairs, bristles or other projections.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)







No arrangement :

Leaves grow randomly from bulbs, rhizomes or other underground stems at no particular arrangement.

Sessile from an underground stem :

Growing directly from an underground stem (bulb, rhizome, tuber, etc.) without a stalk.

None :

No prominent venation visible.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)


Leaf Shape

Leaf Margin



Linear :

Long and narrow with parallel margins.

Entire :

Smooth margin without indentations, lobes or any projections.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)




Basic Flower Type

No. of Petals

No. of Sepals


Pale Pink

Colour ranges from off-white pink to pink or lavender, but mostly pale pink.

Stellate :

A flower with non overlapping petals arising separately from a central point and hence forming a shape of a star.


To be botanically precise, the flower has 3 sepals (outer whorl) and 3 petals (inner whorl) which are identical, and so they are collectively referred to as 6 tepals or perianth segments.



  Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)







Raceme :

Simple, elongated, indeterminate cluster with stalked flowers.

The flower is made up of 6 pale-pink petals with a central longitudinal stripe which is slightly more colourful. These are arranged symmetrically in the form of a star. There are 6 erect stamens with firm thick filaments and conspicuous purple-black anthers and also a single pistil with a pink or lavender style and stigma. The superior ovary is usually white.

Superior :

Ovary situated above the flower parts (the calyx, corolla, and androecium). In other words, these are attached below the ovary.

#, Antipetalous :

Ovary situated above the flower parts (the calyx, corolla, and androecium). In other words, these are attached below the ovary.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Average Flower Size

Pollen Colour

Other Notes








No. Per Fruit







Roughly a conical or pyramidical shape.




Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Fruit Type

Colour of Fruit

Subterranean Parts

Other Notes


Dehiscent Loculicidal Capsule :

A fruit capsule that splits open longitudinally into the cavity of the locule when the seeds are ripe.


Turns beige when ripe and dry.

Bulb :

A short underground stem with fleshy scales or coats.



Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)

Plant description and characters

Life Cycle:


Growth Form:

GEOPHYTE (bearing underground bulbs, rhizomes, stolons, etc.)


Garigue, steppe, cliff tops, gaps and pockets on/and between rocks.


Very Common

Localities in Malta:

Dingli Cliffs, Fawwara, Siggiewi, Mtahleb, Bahrija, Mistra etc.

Plant Height:


Flowering Period:


Protection in Malta:

Not Protected by Law (LN200/2011 or LN311/2006)

Red List 1989:

Not listed in the Red Data Book of the Maltese Islands


Likely to be poisonous.

This miniature lily is seen in Malta only for few weeks during the beginning of Autumn but it is described perennial due to its all year round living subterranean bulb, which is about 15mm across and have a brown coating. The plant first develops the flowering stalk at the end of September and beginning of October (depending rainfall) and flowers for a small period of 2-3 weeks during October. Fruiting and seed formation takes place by the end of October, and then the leaves are formed later in Winter.

The flowering stalk produces racemes of 3-15 flowers. The flowers at the bottom open first and this progress up to the tip of the stalk. Buds are slightly elongated rounded structures with pale brown and white stripes. The stalked flowers consists of 6 petals which their colour vary from off-white pink to pale pink or pale lavender. Each petal have a central longitudinal stripe which is slightly more intensively coloured from the petal. The 6 petals are arranged in a star-shaped actinomorphic flower form.

The male reproductive organs are 6 conspicuous stamens with firm, erect filaments (white or lavender in colour) and black or very dark purple anthers. The female sex organ is a superior white ovary with a short single style and stigma. The stigma and upper part of style are often pink or lavender in colour. Flowers are very small, about 6-7mm across.

The fruit is a rather small capsule which when ripe it splits open into 3 lobes, each having a pair of seeds. The seeds are black, tooth shaped or pie-slice shape and measures about 2mm.

By mid November the stalk withers and the leaves starts growing. The plant forms 4 to 8 leaves, growing directly from the underground bulb. They are very narrow and can be described as linear shaped. They measure about 4-8cm long and 1-2 mm wide. They are also glabrous (nearly shining) have an entire margin and a grooved or channelled cross section.

Information, uses and other details


Prospero autumnale is native from Great Britain East to Asia Minor and even extends into Africa. [WWW-77]

According to reference [WWW-26] this plant is native to North Africa, Middle-East and most of Europe:
  • Northern Africa: Algeria; Morocco
  • Western Asia: Iran; Iraq; Syria; Turkey
  • Caucasus: Azerbaijan; Georgia; Russian Federation
  • Europe: Albania; Bulgaria; Greece; Italy; Romania; Hungary; Yugoslavia; Ukraine, France; Portugal; Spain, United Kingdom

Limited use of plant

This plant has only ornamental use. There is no reports of any applied medicinal, culinary or well popular traditional use. [WWW-47].


Like most Scilla species this plant is likely to be very poisonous. [WWW-79] In fact it is listed in the book "Poisonous plants of all countries" [323]. Apart this reference there is no more evidence about it's toxic constituents but it may be assumed that its toxicity and toxic compounds are similar to a well known poisonous Scilla, that is the Scilla maritima (Urginea maritima). [SM]

Hardiness and propagation

Prospero autumnale is hardy to at least -26 C. [WWW-77] and withstand temperatures of about 28 C during the end of September in Malta [SM]. Prospero autumnale is rarely available from bulb dealers. It is something of a pass-along plant, permanent in the garden with some natural propagation. It may be grown from seed or dormant bulbs lifted to find offsets. [WWW-77]

Medicinal properties:

[WWW-26] states that this plant have few medicinal properties as shown in the table below, but no reports have been found of applying this plant in medicine, probably because of its small size and toxic properties.

Cardiotonic Exciting action in the heart, through the medium of the stomach; cordial; stimulant    [WWW-32 ]
Diuretic Tending to increase the secretion and discharge of urine.   [WWW-32]
Expectorant Used to induce the ejection of mucus, phlegm, and other fluids from the lungs and air passages by coughing or spitting.   [WWW-32]
Stimulant Produces a temporary increase of vital activity in the organism, or in any of its parts;    [WWW-32]

Scilla and Greek Mythology

Scilla was a beautiful nymph who fell in love with Glauco. To obtain his love she asked a witch called Circe to prepare a magical potion. She prepared the potion, and poured it into a lake where she advised scilla to bath there for casting the magical effect. It happened that Circe was also in love with Glauco and to get rid of Scilla she did not prepared a love potion but on the contrary it transformed Scilla in a horrorful monster with the body of a woman a tail of a fish (some describes it as 2 serpent tails) and 6 heads of barking dogs, With despair Scilla threw herself in the sea water at Sicily in front of cariddi. She hid herself in the deep caves and only went out to hunt for navigational vessels. Haribda - other terrible monster lived opposite from her. Only Argonauts and Odysseus's ship could pass between these two dangers. Translated from [WWW-47] by [SM]. The name Sicilia (sicily) may have originated from Scilla. [SM]

Personal Observations

Flowering season in Malta and its habitat
This plant flowers in Malta for a short period. The flowering stem emerges at about mid-September and the flowers are formed more or less 2-3 weeks later, thus in October. The stems are very short (6cm) and the flowers are tiny (5mm) hence it can be difficult to locate from walking distance. They like to grow in damp, mossy reddish soil found in rock spaces and pockets in rocks of garigue and cliffs. By the end of October all flowers are gone and what remains is the fruit capsules splitting into 3 locules bearing 6 black seeds (a pair every splitted locule). The long linear leaves grow after the flowering-fruiting phase but they are usually unobserved by surrounding vegetation during Winter and Spring. [SM]
Diversity of the plant
There are various descriptions of the flower with regards to its colour, and in most cases it is described as lavender/lilac petals with a pale blue centre. The Maltese flower form is then more whitish. It has a pale lilac or pink colour (off white) with a white centre and a pink style. In all flowers, anthers are dark purple.
Below is a table of several images of the flowers of Prospero autumnale taken from different sources as indicated. As it can be seen, there is distinctive colour variation between different flower images:

Image from France Purple, pale blue centre
Image from France 2 cornflower, pale blue centre
Image from Spain Lilac with pale blue stripes and pale blue centre
Image from Guernsey Lilac, pale blue centre
Image from Italy David, pale blue centre scilla_autumnalis/scilla_autumnalis_scilla_autunnale_06.htm
Image by Iza Goroff Goof
Image from UK aught, pale blue centre
Image from UK (2) White
Image from Spain (Catalunya) Lilac with white centre flor%20scilla%20autumnalis.htm
Image from Malta Lilac/Pink with white centre

Photo Gallery   (32 Images)

Photo of a mature flower (left) and one just bloomed. The latter still have entire (non-dehiscent) anthers which have a contrasting maroon colour.
Photo of flower which consists of 6 small petals, 6 erect stamens with dark brown-black or violet-black anthers, and a small pinkish style. Covering the ovary there is a white shell made up of 6 flaps coming from the base of the anthers' filaments.
Photo of one flowering stem growing directly from the bulb. Leaves are not present during the flowering phase.
Photo of the small flower in situ. It is only about 5-6cm above ground so it is very difficult to notice while walking. Fortunately at September/October there is not much vegetation covering it.
Close up photo of the flower in the shade.
Close up photo of the flower. 6 tepals, 6 stamens, central white ovary bulging from three side and a central, pale violet style with a non conspicuous stigma.
Close up photo of the flower. Interesting colour of the filaments holding purple-brown anthers.
Photo of buds and back side of flower. At the back of each tepal there is brown stripe which is more prominent than from the front side.
Photo of the white flower with prominent dark anthers held by erect white filaments that have a violet tip. Also included in the photo are the sub-spherical fruit capsules (slightly out of focus).
Close up macro photo of flower ( about 6mm across) showing in detail its petals, stamens and spherical pistil.
Photo of a specimen which have a lavender flower, a much more vivid colour from the normal pink form.
Photo of an albino specimen. Confirmed to be an albino (not a white flower form) from the fact that the anthers are yellow instead maroon and the bud stripes are green.
Photo of 3 blossomed flowers of the same plant. The number of flowers varies from plant to plant between 3 to 12.
Photo of flower (side view) and few buds. Usually in any flowering stalk, there is only one flower open and when it expires, the next bud above will flower.
Photo of plant during mid October. It is a low growing plant (about 5cm) without leaves but just one flowering stalk holding not more from 12 flowers. One has literally bow down to the soil to note this small low growing plant.
Photo of plant during mid November. The flowers have developed into fruit which when ripe split open into 3 parts to disperse seeds (seen in this photo as straw colored stalks). After the fruiting period, the leaves develop and grow from the underground bulbs. The leaves are linear and about 4cm - 8cm in length.
Scanned image of flower under black and white backgrounds. Note the violet tips of the filaments.
Scanned image of flowering part of plant and its dimensions.
Scanned image of flower (sideview). Note the light brown stripe at the centre of the petal.
Scanned image of fruit capsules. Each can hold a maximum of 6 seeds.
Photo of the fruit.
Close up photo of fruit which are small dark purple capsules.
Photo of splitting fruit capsules. This photo was taken on the 28th Sep 2005.
Photo of fruit in situ. They are dehiscent, more or less spherical capsules which when ripe splits open into 3 lobes. Each lobe holds 2 black seeds.
Photo of the ripe fruit split open and exposing its black seeds. No developed means of seed dispersion. Fruit are ripe during October.
Scanned image of ripe fruit. Each capsule splits into 3 parts each holding 2 black seeds, thus each capsule holds a maximum of 6 seeds.
Magnified scanned image of seeds. They are tooth shaped and about 2mm in size.
Magnified image of black seeds under light microscope showing the detail of the seed testa (seed covering).
Magnified image of seed-coat texture under light microscope.
Illustration of the plant taken from Usually the plant have an inflorescence with less flowers.
Photo of bulb which has a brown, smooth tunic and forms several thick, white roots.
Photo of entire plant with annotations of its main parts.

Links & Further info

Google Web

Google Images

Yahoo Web

Yahoo Images




Med Checklist

Cat. of Life



The Plant List


Vienna Virt. Hb.





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