What is a bulb?

Jim McKenney jamesamckenney@verizon.net
Mon, 07 May 2012 08:28:53 PDT

There are orchids which to my senses fit the PBS scheme well: Pleione, for instance. These fit the criteria of " bulb" in the broad sense very well. BTW, to me the structures from which Pleione grow are corms. 

I've never understood how tree peonies got on the wiki, but that does not in any way diminish my appreciation of those accounts now that they are there (and in some bulb catalogs!). We bulb growers are in a sense a sub-set of the gardening public. When we venture away from bulbs, we bring with us our knowledge of bulb culture. We often solve our gardening problems in terms of what we've learned as bulb growers. So if a successful bulb grower wants to talk about growing tropical evergreen epiphytic orchids, I take a look at what they have to say. There might be something there I can adapt to my practices. For instance, there is a guy successfully growing Lilium in Hawaii; I think he's growing them in orchid pots with lots of lava rock. Will that be the solution to growing them here through a stifling Maryland summer? 

In a sense, these squabbles about what is and what is not a bulb are a red herring. If we want the wiki to be a resource for people who think they are growing "bulbs", then it makes good sense to be very accepting about which plants qualify. Whom do you want to listen to, the  person successfully growing Pamianthe or Worsleya on a slab of bark under orchid culture or the frustrated nit-picker who wants to insist that such plants are actually not geophytes (because they are not growing in the ground)  but rather lithophytes or epiphytes or phloeophytes ("bark-o-phytes")? And there is another side to this: many of us look to the wiki to keep informed about changes in nomenclature. There are genera of plants some of whose members are truly bulbous and some of whose members are not. When I look to the wiki, I'm glad to see the non-bulbous sorts included in discussions of nomenclatural changes. 

Isn't one of the reasons we have these discussions over and over that gardeners mistakenly tend to imbue these distinctions (i.e.the distinction between a bulb and a corm, or between a geophyte and an epiphyte and so on)  with taxonomic significance? We expect a true geophyte's relatives to be geophytes, but that's not necessarily the case. 

Jim McKenney

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