Saturday, May 13, 2017

Bulb Query

I have some questions about two spring bulbs that some of you might be able to help me with.

The first one has to do the small daffodil, Narcissus bulbocodium, often called hoop petticoat daffodil.

Narcissus bulbocodium

I attempted several times to grow this bulb in our old garden where the soil was rich and deep, but I never succeeded. The bulb invariably died in the first winter.

When we bought the property here, I put some bulbocodium bulbs in a field where the soil is at the very most 6 inches deep. It gets flooded in winter and spring as well as getting baked in July and August.

They have survived over many years, but they have not flowered much. Five or six blooms a year is all they produce. Yet there is always a fair bit of foliage. This spring I decided to dig up a clump with no blooms.

To my surprise, there were literally dozens and dozens of bulbs.

They have done very well as far as reproducing (there are 25 times more bulbs than I ever planted). I only dug up one clump, and there are many clumps.

You might think they are too crowded, but why didn't they bloom more in the first few years when crowding was not a problem?

Any suggestions to have them bloom?

My other Spring bulb question has to do with Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica. 

In the old garden, there was a clump of Puschkinia. It produced beautiful, lush flowers. 

When we moved here, I took it along, and it is still doing beautifully.

The "old" Puschkinia

However, every time since that I have tried to buy Puschkinia, both at the old garden and at the new, I have ended up with these puny little flowers which are never as nice as the old ones (they are about half the size of the old ones and much less numerous).

The "new" Puschkinia

The name Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica. suggests that there is the species and then a cultivated variety called Libanotica. Some reference treat scilloides and libanotica as synomyms. This has been my experience in commerce and reference works. I  have never seen a distinction made.

At first I thought they might be bigger because they were older (they would have been originally planted at the old garden in the 70s at the earliest). 

However I am more inclined to agree with my friend Glen who is of the opinion that it is a different cultivar. 

Any ideas to explain this difference?


  1. No ideas on the narcissus, I'm actually surprised they overwinter for you since I've never thought to risk mine outdoors. Maybe they need a bit of fertilizer?
    The puschkinia mystery might be that they are actually Scilla mischtschenkoana. Check the PBS website, they are very similar but the insides of the pusch.. are in a cone shape, but the inside of the scilla are separated stamens. Sorry my botany is so awful!

  2. Thank you for identifying it. I think you are right. The blooms are very similar. One more thing that points to this Scilla is the fact that it blooms earlier than the puschkinia.
    As for the bulbocodiums, I think they survive here because of the snow cover (even if, for the first time since I garden here, we lost our snow cover for a while this last winter and I lost many of my tender things - including a 5 year old Gunnera.)
    Thanks again!

  3. I have a similar issue with narcissus bulbocodium. I planted some bulbs in a gritty pebble bed and I only ever get one flower each year so I will be interested if someone has an answer.

  4. It sounds as if an application of phosphorus might help.

    1. * the narcissus - I agree with the comment about Scilla.

  5. Hello Alain, I wonder if the narcissus have been bred to the point where their leaves are so thin and small compared to the flower - especially when you compare this to older varieties or species - that there isn't enough leaf to reliably make a new flower for the next season, or that conditions have to be *really* good for them to do so?

  6. Hi Alain, here are a few things I know about Narcissus bulbocodium; They don't mind winter damp. They do need to dry out during the summer. They don't like too much competition. They prefer an acid soil. They are often found in the wild on the edge of woodland and tend to naturalise in these conditions, hope this helps.

    1. Thank you for the information Rick. From your comments I conclude that my problem is that there is too much competition and they are going on limestone (not in acidic soil). I suppose they survive because they are wet in the winter and baked in late summer.


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