MadSci Network: Botany

Re: How do daffodils and other bulbs reproduce?

Date: Mon Dec 8 00:48:52 2003
Posted By: David Hershey, Faculty, Botany, NA
Area of science: Botany
ID: 1070822022.Bt

Some plants, such as oriental poppy, can be propagated from pieces of their 
roots, termed root cuttings.  However, pieces of roots from true bulbs could 
not be used as root cuttings. 

A true bulb is not a modified root. It consists of a short stem termed the 
basal plate and fleshy leaves, termed scales, that are modified for storage. 
Many true bulbs, such as daffodils, split or form offsets or bulblets as a 
method of clonal reproduction. Other true bulbs, such as tulip, disintegrate 
each year so only offsets are left for the next year. Some true bulbs, such as 
some lilies, also form very tiny bulbs, called bulbils, on their stems. Some 
onions and garlic plants produce bulbils on their flowering stalks. Cutting or 
cutting apart some true bulbs, such as hyacinth, can stimulate formation of 
bulblets on the cut surfaces. Flowering plants with true bulbs can also 
reproduce via seeds. 

Gardeners use the term bulb in a wider sense to mean any undergound storage 
organ used for propagation. In that sense a "bulb" can be any of the following:

1. a true bulb such as tulip, onion, daffodil, lily or amaryllis
2. a horizontal underground stem (rhizome) such as iris or lily of the valley
3. an enlarged underground stem (tuber) such as potato or tuberous begonia
4. a compressed stem (corm) such as crocus or gladiolus
5. a tuberous root such as sweet potato or dahlia

All these "bulbs" or geophytes can also form offsets or multiply their 
underground storage organs as a method of reproduction.

This is a good season to study bulbs because of the wide availability of 
Christmas amaryllis (Hippeastrum). They are an excellent bulb for classroom 

Your public library might have one of more of the dozens of gardening books 
devoted to gardening bulbs. 


Root cuttings

Root cuttings of oriental poppy

Propagating lilies from bulbils

Onion bulbils

Hyacinth propagation


Specialized vegetative structures

Hershey, D.R. 2002. Hippeastrum is hardly a humdrum classroom plant. Science 
Activities 39(3):19-26. 

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