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Liliaceae, Urginea maritima, Sea Squill, Sea Onion

October 10, 2009

Urginea is sometimes included in the Drimia genera, comprising around 120 species in S Eurpoe, Africa and parts of Asia. U. maritima is typically considered to be a group of species comprising several very close relatives, all Mediterranean in distribution.

Urginea maritima is a common, widely distributed perennial plant with a large, white, onion-like bulb, growing up to 15 cm in diameter. U. sanguinea has reddish bulbs. The leaves are smooth and fleshy, appearing in the spring. The flower bearing stem is long (sometimes more then a meter high), leafless and russet in color, covered with small white flowers in a dense and elongated spike.

The flower is still considered good luck, and is hung in doorways around the New Year.

Despite its toxicity, the plant has numerous important medicinal applications. It is traditionally used as a heart tonic and diuretic, also as an expectorant in cough mixtures, for chronic bronchitis and whooping cough. Externally it can be employed to disinfect wounds. U. sanguinea is traditionally used as rat poison.

Livestock poisoning is often associated with this species. Dried powdered bulbs are lethal to sheep at a single dose of 2.5 g/kg.

Symptoms in humans include nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal disturbance, salivation and exhaustion with the usual respiratory and cardiac symptoms such as hypertension, coma, cardiac arrest and death.

Despite the name, Sea Squill, this species can be found quite a bit inland fromthe sea, all the way up into mountainous regions (of Greece), typically in barren, stony locations. The photos below were taken in olive orchards.

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