Bulbs are one of nature’s bright ideas.

How fascinating these early spring sprouts are, and even more fortuitous is that they will soon give rise to fantastic flowers. 

Bursting all around us are these basic underground storage structures. Bulbs are thick, fleshy plant buds that contain both a short stem and fleshly leaves or leaf bases. They contain everything a plant needs to survive during dormancy, including a very efficient food storage mechanism and reproduction methodology. What a powerful propagation process!

These below-ground growers don’t need to be concerned with the fuss and muss of sexual reproduction. They can do it asexually or, in plant lingo, practice vegetative reproduction.

As with everything in life, there are benefits and detriments to this mode of mating. On one hand, it can be done independently; the assistance of pollinators is not necessary. Nor are flowers and seeds required. And even with extreme setbacks, such as insect annihilation or fire, bulb-producing plants can survive.

Not depending on seeds frees bulb-bearing plants from the hazards of seed germination. No need to consider the consequences of a lack of water or food at the germination site, and at a more basic level, the finding of that suitable location. On the other hand, seed dispersal does provide for more rapid and widespread distribution of offspring. I guess those platonic plants must take the good with the bad.

There are two types of true bulbs. Layered bulbs include amaryllis and narcissus, while examples of scaly bulbs include certain types of lilies. 

Add papery membranes and you have a tunicate bulb; without that membrane, an imbricate bulb. More familiar tunicate bulbs that provide food as well as beauty are garlic, onions, shallots and leeks.

Plants with bulbs are usually monocotyledons; however there are some dicotyledons that produce bulbs. Members of the genus Oxalis, the wood sorrels, are bulb-producing dicots.

The world of vegetative reproduction goes beyond bulbs, and there are other ingenious methods of plant food and water storage. Bulbs are only one type of geophyte, which is the technical term for these plants with underground resources. Other geophytes include corms, rhizomes and tubers.

Corms are not true bulbs. Instead, they are modified stems that swell and contain food, examples of which are gladiolas and crocuses. In plants with rhizomes, the swollen stems grow horizontally under the ground. They are sometimes referred to as root stalks, so it is no wonder that bamboo, asparagus, and ginger are plants in this group.

Comparable to rhizomes are tubers. Dahlias, begonias and the well-loved potato are geophytes commonly known as tubers. They have neither a basal plant nor a tunic covering like bulbs, but result from uneven swelling of the underground stem.

Clearly there is more than meets the eye down under. The cold, hard ground is already bursting with bulbs and birth in startling variety. Trust that nature, which has carefully been preparing bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers below-ground, will soon bring amazing things to the surface. Or, as William Arthur Ward knew, “Faith sees a beautiful blossom in a bulb, a lovely garden in a seed, and a giant oak in an acorn.”

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.