Native to the western Mediterranean region and central Asia, these bulbs bear golden yellow flowers that provide a pleasant autumn surprise in borders, rock gardens, and along paths. In early fall, the 112-in. blooms appear singly on 6- to 9-in. stems; they are chalice shaped at first, then open out to a star. Narrow, 6- to 12-in.-long leaves appear in fall along with the flowers; they remain green all winter, then die to the ground in spring. Unappetizing to deer and rodents.
Plant bulbs as soon as they become available in garden centers (usually in August and September). Set them 4 in. deep and about 6 in. apart in well-drained soil. Where winter temperatures drop to 20F or lower, cover them with a thick layer of mulch. Try to keep planting bed dry in summer when bulbs are dormant. After planting, the bulbs often take two or three years to settle in and begin blooming well. Divide clumps only when vigor and flowering decline.
If you can't keep the planting area dry during summer dormancy, grow sternbergia in pots and move them to a dry spot in summer. They bloom better when pot-bound, so don't be in a hurry to repot. Also, don't fret if these temperamental bulbs fail to bloom in any one year, as they are sensitive to annual variations in the weather. There's nothing the gardener can do about this but sigh.