Growing Native Bulbs


Native bulbs at Shonnard’s!

Bulbs are integral parts of our native flora, and deeply bonded to our outdoor experiences.  The awe of watching the green swampy meadow submerge in a sea of uniform blue camas, the delight of discovering a carpet of fawn lily or shooting star in a dappled wood, the sudden surprise of finding the delicate beauty of mariposas amid a rocky scrub are some of the highlights of time spent out in nature in western Oregon.  Apart from their aesthetics, native bulbs also fill important niches in our ecosystems.  Our native fauna, bugs and birds and mammals alike, have co-evolved with these species – plants that are perfectly suited to provide for their habitat needs.

You can bring some of that wild wonder and wildlife bounty into more domestic landscapes.  Many native bulbs are easy to grow, and adapted to even some of our most challenging sites, and fall is the best (and sometimes only) opportunity to plant them.  Try a clump of  greater camas (Camassia leichtlinii) or harvest cluster-lily (Brodaeia elegans) in a margin area that is too wet to walk on in the winter, but quite dry in the summer; or establish a drift of fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum), mariposa (Calochortus tolmei), and chocolate lily (Fritillaria affinis) into unirrigated turf under oak trees.  Shooting star (Dodecatheon hendersonii) will grow in a woodland edge, where it gets light but not the intense competition of lots of grasses, and needs the buzz of bumblebees for pollination; ookow (Dichelostemma congestum) prefers much more sun, and waits to bloom until grasses (and even its own foliage) are preparing to go dormant for the summer on dry hillsides.
Some tips for success with native bulbs:
  • Buy soon, and plant immediately.  Most of our native bulbs begin their growing cycle right now, and many of them are challenging to hold for planting a few weeks down the road.
  • Select bulbs suited to your site’s lighting.  Mariposa and shooting star are quite adaptable, but trilliums and fawn lilies won’t tolerate hot sun; ookow and cluster-lilies require full sun, but camas and tiger lily will grow just fine in dappled shade.
  • Many of our native bulbs require a dry resting period in summer, and are not suited for irrigated landscapes.  Mariposas, chocolate lilies, ookow, and fawn lilies are examples of native bulbs that prefer to dry out in the summer.  A few native bulbs don’t like sites that dry out too much (or too fast) – notably camas, and some of the alliums.
Whether you are planting wildlife habitat, dabbling in native plant landscaping, or simply enjoying their unique aesthetic appeal, native bulbs make great additions to your landscape.