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A Flower Bulb's Greatest Need? To Bloom!

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A Flower Bulb's Greatest Need? To Bloom!

Flower bulbs are truly amazing creatures. We all love beautiful flower bulbs like amaryllis and paperwhites indoors over the holidays, and tulips and daffodils welcoming spring to the garden. We want to support these beauties with the lighting and watering and feeding they need to thrive. Let's start with the single most important need these bulbs have - to bloom.

amaryllis paperwhites oxalis dahlia and freesia all flower bulbs need to bloom

Blooming is a Biological Imperative for Flower Bulbs

It is certainly true that flower bulbs, like all plants, have certain needs when it comes to temperature range, exposure to sunlight, amount of water and nutrients. By the time you are ready to plant a flower bulb in your home or garden, it has been growing and maturing with all of these needs met. By the time it arrives on your door step, the bulbs already have their next set of blooms and leaves growing inside them in embryonic form. They are in a sense "pregnant" and their need to give birth to the flowers inside them is one of their biological imperatives.

All living organisms from bacteria to amaryllis bulbs to people have what are called "biological imperatives" - needs the organism must meet in order to to survive. If you think a moment, you can surely name a few biological imperatives all forms of life share - the need for oxygen, for food, for water. Just as important as each of these is the need for reproduction. And flower bulbs reproduce through their flowers. The bloom we see as a beautiful, desirable addition to our home or garden is absolutely necessary for the plant's survival.

Humans often harness the biological imperatives of other species to enrich our own lives. This is why cows give milk daily and backyard hens lay their eggs. So, too, do the flower bulbs bought and sold the world over, planted in millions of homes across the globe, come to flower.

You may have seen or heard of the new line of wax amaryllis bulbs. If you can get past the concept of taking a living flower bulb and dipping it into scorching hot, melted wax, then condemned to a brief life of holiday blooms to be followed by the trash can - they are pretty interesting.

wax dipped amaryllis bulbs play on the biological imperative to bloom

With the bulb encased in wax like this, it can no longer take in any oxygen, water or nutrients, leaving it only able to bloom and then die. While amaryllis lovers the world over are horrified, companies made many millions of dollars in sales just last year with these waxed flowering bulbs. Why do they work? Because the bulbs have a biological imperative to bloom.

Here in our warehouse, in far less decorative fashion, we do see this same phenomenon of bulbs flowering with zero care. Sometimes a return is opened to show pale flowers formed in transit, and occasionally a bulb rolls away to get overlooked. The amazing spectacle of bulbs deprived of light, moisture, soil and nutrients still pushing out their blooms is a lesson on the persistence of life.

amaryllis bulb bloomed with no light water or soil 

This amaryllis produced blooms and many leaves despite being trapped in our cooler without light, soil or water.

cybister amaryllis bloomed 2 sets of flowering stems with no light water or soil

This cybister amaryllis bloomed 2 flowering stems with several blooms apiece in the complete absence of light, soil or water.  

eucomis bulb produces flowers even with no light water or soil

This spring, a eucomis bulb was found pushing out its blooms, struggling to flower even though denied any access to light, soil or water. 

You may have seen this at home if you have ever had an onion or potato begin to grow on your kitchen shelf. Along with the commercially wax dipped amaryllis, all of these bulbs are using the very last drop of their stored energies to produce blooms even when doing so dooms the bulb to death. Had these bulbs remained dormant, they would still have those energies intact, ready to make use of the light and nutrients they could some day get. Dormancy is the safest state for a flower bulb, especially in adverse conditions. While dormant, the bulb retains its energies, conserves life and has the possibility of blooming in the future. Breaking dormancy to try to bloom now, demonstrates just how necessary that blooming is. Flower bulbs will trade their life for the opportunity to bloom. 

In October, a large order was placed for pre-planted oxalis triangularis in ceramic mugs. Nine months later, Dena found the original proto-type we planted and showed to the customer was still here - still in its cardboard box and forgotten in a filing room. She took it out, unwrapped it, and decided to water it and put it on her desk. Weeks later, the bulbs are growing and blooming merrily. 

"Life finds a way" is an enduring quote from Jurassic Park. It is also a basic and inspiring truth - especially when it comes to flower bulbs! The next time you are looking at your flower bulbs that still have not bloomed - just remember that they will. They need to!

 Happy Gardening!

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  • Kathleen McCarthy
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