Bulbs may flower for only a few weeks each year, but multiplied by scores of blossoms over a lifetime, flowering bulbs make a garden magical.
Plus, because bulbs are often dormant during the most desolate weather, they can survive with little care. Specialized roots or stem bases of the bulbs store nutrients and energy for the plants’ growth, and they can send up new plants year after year. Though often lumped together under the word bulb, there are actually five types of bulbs.
True bulbs or flowering bulbs have an underground stem base containing an embryonic plant surrounded by scales. Most true bulbs—like amaryllis and tulips—have a protective papery outer skin. Rhizomes—like calla lily and some iris— have a thickened stem growing partially or entirely below ground. The rhizomes’ roots grow directly from the underside. Corm bulbs have a swollen underground based composed of solid tissue rather than scales. The growth point of corms is at the top. Corms include crocus and freesia. Tubers are swollen underground stem bases that lack a corm’s distinct organization. There’s no basal plate so roots can grow from all sides of tubers like anemone and tuberous begonia.
Learn more about the tried-and-true flowering bulbs for the South—Daffodil, Spider Lily, Crinums, Tiger Lily, Spanish Bluebell, and Grape Hyacinth—in our guide to growing bulbs.