Gardener’s Favorite Geophytes (bulbs, corms, tubers)

Gardener’s Corner | Questions and Answers with Local Experts

By Dan Songster, 2015 May

This column is a regular newsletter feature offering chapter members and local experts a chance to briefly share information on many things related to gardening with natives. Our question for this Newsletter is: What is your favorite native geophyte (bulbs, corms, tubers, etc)? Oh, and where did you get them?

Laura Camp – “I really enjoyed the Redskin Onion—Allium haematochiton (purchased at Tree of Life Nursery). It was pretty and grew bigger and was perfectly adapted to my yard with no water – until a gopher came and ate it. Must be delicious, too!”

Thea Gavin – “Dichelostemma capitatum is my favorite! I collected seeds from my sister’s property in Murrieta years ago, scattered them throughout my back yard. Now there are lovely purple surprises of “school bells” ringing around my garden every spring. Last fall I dug up a few hundred corms (and cormlets), nibbled on some, and replanted the rest at home and in the Heritage Garden. Besides being easy to grow, this plant was an important food source for Native Americans–I highly recommend it (and will have corms to share later this year).”

Celia Kutcher – “I like ’em all! Dichelostemma capitatumSisyrinchium bellum, & Bloomeria crocea have all naturalized in my garden, from plantings many years ago. Don’t remember where I bought them.”

Chuck Wright – “Let’s stretch this a little bit and add rhizome, as in Western Blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium bellum. This little beauty is so trouble free, it naturalizes nicely and when it gets ratty looking I hack it off almost to the ground and before you know it is looking good again and pops up in places that it likes to be without out being a pest.”

Dori Ito –

I’ve never met a geophyte I didn’t like, whether to grow or to eat or to ooh and aah over.

“But to winnow it down to favorites, I find stream orchids enchanting and surprisingly easy, Calochortus a challenge that occasionally rewards my persistence and soap plants en mass with the undulating elegance of their leaves a revelation. My bulb source is usually Rancho Santa Ana’s annual plant sale where I’m already carried away in the rapture of native plant buying and can easily toss in another bulb bag, or two, or three or…”

John Gossett – “I first saw Calochortus splendens when I was visiting the Santa Rosa Plateau years ago, and I really think splendid mariposa lily understates how beautiful it is. Ever since then I have wanted to grow some one day, though I understand it is a bit temperamental, so I have been putting off the risk of failure. I will try it this Fall!”

Orchid Black – “Lilium humboldtii, Humbolt Lily, hard to find but not hard to grow with shade and moisture. Fabulous large tiger-spotted orange lily! Tree of Life is where I have found it more than once.”

Alan Lindsay – “My favorite is Brodiaea kinkienis, San Clemente Island Brodiaea, I obtained the bulbs from RSABG four years ago. They have bloomed every year and doubled in number.”

Dan Songster – “Calochortus of any kind are wonderful but don’t always return the next year in my clay soils, while the little firecracker flower (Dichelostemma idamaia) gives bright and interesting flowers and does return each year to put on its show. (I usually get both of these in the mail from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs). Whenever Tree of Life has a Leopard lily or Humboldt lily I get those and try them anywhere they fit — they are stupendous!

Most native bulbs are also good in pots of various sizes and depths.”


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