The Heritage Herb Garden, at the Ozark Folk Center State Park, graces the grounds with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas and helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.

In the spring landscape our eyes are awed by the blooms of underground stems. Yes, jonquil, daffodil, iris, bloodroot and violet flowers all arise from bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes which are botanically designated as stems.

The stem is the axis of the plant—it has the ability to produce all of the other organs. A germinating seed produces the embryo-stem (caulicle), from this the root descends and the stem ascends. The ascending stem bears leaves. There are various stems that also live underground.

Bloodroots, irises and violets bloom above their rhizomes. The fleshy parts are creeping stems that run along or just under the soil surface, striking roots. These have obvious sections consisting of a succession of joints or nodes.

Bulbs include the jonquils, daffodils and tulips and store nutrients in fat, subterranean parts. Gladiolus, crocus and cyclamen are corms. The main stems of these plants are tuberous rather than branching.  

Tubers are thickened rootstocks that have buds (eyes) on the sides. The buds produce roots for absorbing nutrient solution, stems and leaves for photosynthesis and finally, stems that bear leaves and flowers. Daylilies and Jerusalem artichokes are examples of flowers with tubers.

Knowing about bulbs, rhizomes and tubers is good for gardeners who want to increase the flowers in their gardens. Each of these categories of plants can and should be divided every three to five years for the health of the stands and to increase spring color. Simply wait until the plants have finished blooming and the leaves begin to yellow. That is the optimum time to dig and divide the plants. For now, revel in the colors of renewal and start digging in compost for new beds of color next year! If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture!