Learn all about the different types of flower bulbs that vary mainly in its fleshy, underground storage structure in order to differentiate one from the other.
Bulbs are usually mistaken by people for mere plants that have fleshy, underground storage structures. However, not all plants referred to as bulbs actually come under the label of bulbs. The correct definition of a bulb is any plant that has an underground storage structure and completes its entire life cycle in it. The biggest purpose of these storage structures is to store essential nutrient reserves. This ensures that the plants’ survival chances are high.
Bulbs, or plants that function similar to them, are usually perennials. They have different periods of growth, followed by flowering. After flowering is completed and the growing season finishes, there is a period of dormancy where the plant dies down to the ground level. For bulbs that flower in spring, the end of the growing season persists in late spring or early summer. Once the fall season comes, the spring bulbs begin to grow and flower again.
Bulbs have five main kinds of storage structures, including true bulbs, corms, tubers, tuberous roots, and rhizomes. Learning more about these can clear any misconceptions about bulbs that you may have had beforehand.
Table of Contents
True bulbs have five main parts. These parts include the basal plate, fleshy scales, tunic, the shoot, and lateral buds. The basal plate is the bottom of the bulb from where the roots emerge. The fleshy scales are the primary storage tissue and are protected by the tunic, which is a skin-like covering. The shoot of the bulb consists of the leaf buds and the developing flower while the lateral buds tend to develop into offsets of bulblets.
There are two types of bulbs in this category: tunicate and imbricate.
Tunicate bulbs have a tunic that has a papery texture. It covers and protects the scales of the bulbs from mechanical injury and drying. This can allow them to be manhandled and used as cut flowers since they are less likely to get damaged.
Tulips are spring-blooming perennial bulbiferous plants with large, showy, brightly colored flowers. These flowers are often used as ornamental plants, in garden fixtures, and as cut flowers. They come in all sorts of colors, including pink, red, purple, yellow, and white. Tulips have a long history of cultivation and are native all the way from southern Europe to central Asia. The name Tulips is derived from a Persian word for turban due to the similarity in looks.
They have been naturalized in many parts of the world and persist in mountainous regions. They usually flower in spring and go dormant once the leaves and flowers die. They emerge from the underground bulb as a shoot that yields a single flower.
Hyacinths are bulbous flowering plants that are known for their fragrant, vibrant colored flowers. The plants are native to the Mediterranean region from Palestine to Turkey. The flowers grow in clusters along the stalk and are commonly used as ornamental plants.
There are many bulbous perennial plants that come under the genus of Muscari. They are native to Eurasia and have dense, usually blue flowers. These urn-shaped flowers look like a bunch of grapes when they are in full bloom. These plants are commonly known as Grape Hyacinths but are different from actual Hyacinth plants. They are also called bluebells in some regions of the United States of America. They are often used as ornamental plants in gardens, rock gardens, indoor settings, and more.
The genus Allium includes many monocotyledonous flowering plants and is a popular cultivation crop. Chives, leeks, shallots, scallions, garlic, and onions all belong to this genus. They are found in temperate climates in the Northern Hemisphere and also include some species that are native to Brazil, Chile, and tropical Africa. Allium plants are known to produce various chemical compounds that give them the distinctive sharp odor and taste of garlic or onions.
The daffodil belongs to the Narcissus genus and is a spring perennial plant from the Amaryllis family. The name Narcissus is derived from the Greek word meaning ‘intoxication’. It was named after the young man who fell in love with his own reflection in Greek mythology. Daffodil, on the other hand, is derived from ‘asphodel’.
The flowers have six petals each that make up the corona and look like a trumpet or cup. They are usually white or yellow, but some garden varieties have been developed that are pink or orange. Narcissus plants have many medical and botanical uses and are native to the woods and meadows of southern Europe, North Africa, and the Western Mediterranean. It has been naturalized to many parts of the world.
Scilla perennial herbs form bulbs that thrive in subalpine meadows, seashores, and woodlands. They are native to Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Some species of the Scilla have been naturalized to New Zealand, North America, and Australia. The flowers of the Scilla plants are purple, pink, blue, and white. They usually flower in early spring like most bulbs, but some species form new plants in autumn.
The imbricate bulb doesn’t have a tunic to protect the inner fleshy scales, which is why care needs to be taken when handling these flowers. They need to be kept moist constantly before planting since the drying out of the scales can injure the bulb.
Lilies are herbaceous flowering plants that grow from bulbs and have really prominent, large flowers. Many species such as the calla lily are popularly cultivated for their looks. They are really significant flowers in many cultures and pieces of literature. Lilies are native to temperate regions in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s important to note that many plants may have the word “lily” in their name; however, they aren’t true lilies.
Corms have a swollen stem base that is turned into a storage tissue mass. This type of bulb doesn’t have visible storage rings like true bulbs (onions) do when they are cut in half. The corm’s roots develop from the basal plate, and they have thin tunics to protect the scales of the plant.
Gladiolus plants are perennials that stem from the family of irises and are sometimes called sword lilies. These flowering plants are native to Mediterranean Europe, Asia, tropical Africa, and South Africa. South Africa’s Cape Floristic Region is known for the most diverse collection of gladiolus plants.
Gladiolus corms need to be separated and stored for replanting when they are dug up in the fall season after the growing season has finished. Gardeners often go through the bulbs and discard any poorly developed corms since they have a low chance of flowering. Newly dug up gladiolus corms have pea-sized cormels on top of old corms. You should remove the old stem and clean up the corm to reveal the growing point. You can indulge in bulb planting in the back of the garden. When you spot some flowering bulbs in early spring, you can transplant them to the front of the garden.
Crocus is a flowering plant that is part of the irises family. It is grown from corm blubs in the autumn, winter, and spring. The famous spice saffron is obtained from Crocus Sativus stigmas. They are found in woodlands, meadows, and scrubs from alpine tundra to sea level. Crocus plants are native to northern Africa, the Middle East, southern and central Europe, central Asia, and a few tropical islands.
Freesia is an herbaceous perennial flowering plant that is native to some regions of Africa, including Kenya and Cape Provinces. It has fragrant, funnel-shaped flowers, and many hybrids have been developed for cultivation. They are mainly ornamental plants for indoor and outdoor gardens.
Tubers don’t have a basal plate from which roots emerge, or protective tunics like true bulbs and corms do. Tubers have buds that tend to scatter over the surface of the tuber. This is where the roots develop. The storage organ is necessary for the survival of the plant through the dry months or the winter season. It provides the plant with the nutrients and energy it needs for re-growth in the next growing season.
The Caladium plant belongs to the Araceae family and is commonly known as the Elephant Ear, Angel Wings, or Heart of Jesus. They are native to Central America and South America and have been naturalized in some tropical islands, parts of Africa, and India. They grow along the banks of rivers and tend to have a dormancy period in dry seasons.
Caladium tubers thrive in shade gardens and are often planted for their tropical-looking foliage. They also flower on rare occasions.
Anemone belongs to the family of Ranunculaceae and is a flowering plant. It is native to temperate zones and is the most cultivated species of late spring bulbs. The pale violet flowers are the most popular type, followed by white and pale pink flowers. The poppy anemone is a famous tuberous plant with large, showy blossoms and parsley-like leaves. These tubers grow best in loamy soil with plenty of well-rotted manure.
The potato is a perennial plant which is also known as the spud, tattie, and tater. This root vegetable is basically the edible starchy tuber part of the plant and is native to the Americas. From the United States to southern Chile, you will be able to find plenty of wild potato species. The plant was originally domesticated by indigenous people in the Americas and is now a staple food throughout the world. Potatoes make up an integral part of the world’s food supply. This particular vegetable is the world’s fourth-largest food crop after corn, wheat, and rice in 2014.
There are over 1,000 types of potatoes, and it has become an important food source. Its culinary use varies from region to region, and people keep on developing new ways to consume potatoes, including baking, boiling, steaming, mashing, frying, and roasting.
Tuberous root plants have different root structures than other types of bulbs. They store their nutrients in the actual root rather than the enlarged stems like other plants do.
Dahlia is an herbaceous, perennial plant which has 42 different species under it. The flowers have such great diversity since the genetic pieces of the plant move across the allele. One flower emerges from each stem and is brightly colored in many different hues such as red, pink, purple, yellow, and lilac. This plant is native to Mexico and was even declared the national flower in the region in 1963. It was also grown as a food crop by the Aztecs since the tuberous root makes for a nutritious meal.
The dahlia tuberous roots reproduce from the bud at the top of the root of where the stem ends. If you plan on storing the dahlia in the fall, then do make sure not to divide the tuberous roots. It should be divided at planting time in the next growing season. The root is divided into several sections. Each section of the root needs to have an eye bearing portion of the stem from where the plant will develop.
Sweet potatoes are large, starchy tuberous roots that belong to the Convolvulaceae family. The shoots and leaves of the plant are sometimes eaten as greens, but the root is a more popular ingredient in foods. The sweet potato is also referred to as a yam (especially the orange kinds) but is botanically different from real yams.
This perennial plant has a long and tapered tuberous root. The smooth skin of the root is found in beige, purple, brown, red, orange, and yellow varieties. The white to pale-yellow colored sweet potatoes are considered less moist and sweet than the orange, pink, and red varieties.
The Manihot esculenta plant is more commonly known as the cassava plant. It is native to South America and is extensively cultivated as an annual crop. The edible, starchy tuberous root is a staple in many dishes and is a major source of carbohydrates for many. In the tropics, cassava is the third-largest source of carbohydrates after rice and maize. It is part of the basic diet of more than half a billion people across the world and is one of the best drought-tolerant crops. It has a bitter-sweet taste.
It is mostly eaten boiled, and substantial quantities of the cassava starch are also extracted from the plant. This starch is known as tapioca, which is used in animal feed, food, and industrial purposes. Thailand is the biggest exporter of tapioca in the world, while Nigeria is the largest producer of cassava crops. The roots are also grated to make edible course flour called the Brazilian Farinha.
Begonia tuberous roots are different from the flowering varieties of the plant. They are native to places with high altitudes and cooler temperatures, such as the Andes Mountains. The tuberous begonia grows well in conditions like cool nights and high humidity and doesn’t do well in arid, hot environments.
The word rhizome is derived from the Ancient Greek word rhízōma, which means a mass of roots. Rhizomes have storage structures that are different than other bulbs. This modified subterranean plant is also known as the creeping rootstalk due to the way it spreads. This type of root structure can actually be invasive in some plant species. They grow horizontally in the ground directly under the soil surface.
Lily of the Valley
The Lily of the Valley plant is also known as Mary’s Tears, Our Lady’s Tears, and May Bells. Due to a legend that the Greek God, Apollo, discovered the plant, it was also known as the Apollinaris in some records. It is a delicate flower that is sweetly scented and highly poisonous. The bell-shaped white flowers have spring-flowering bulbs and look really pretty. It is native to cooler regions in the Northern Hemisphere like Europe and Asia.
This rhizome has been labeled as an invasive species in many regions since it can form large colonies that can threaten other native plants. In less suitable areas with intense sunlight and dry soils, this plant is less invasive, but you should probably think twice before planting this innocent-look plant.
Ginger is a popular rhizome plant that is widely used in folk medicine and as a spice. This herbaceous perennial bears purple to pale yellow flowers that arise from stems in separate shoots. Ginger is native to the Southeast Asian region and was one of the first spices exported from Asia to Europe in the spice trade. It was also used by the Austronesian people as well as the Ancient Greek and Roman Empires.
Turmeric belongs to the Zingiberaceae ginger family. The root of the flowering plant is used in cooking, and it is native to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. It needs considerable rainfall and temperatures between 20 and 30 °C to survive as a crop. The rhizomes are consumed by many and are also used for propagation for the next year.
The rhizomes of the turmeric plant are boiled and dried or used fresh. They are ground up into a bright orange-yellow powder that is used as a flavoring and coloring agent. In many Asian cuisines, it is used to make curries. The powder has a mustardy, earthy aroma and a black-peppery, bitter, warm flavor.
There are many varieties of plants that emerge from bulbs. Many species of bulbous plants are essential to the world as food and ornaments.