Bulbs Can Move Themselves. Wait, What?!

By Sarah Wilson,
Healthy Planet Staff Writer

If you plant a daffodil bulb too shallow (and who hasn’t), worry not, the plant can fix that. Many can pull themselves deeper into the ground when necessary. This fact flooded my mind with more questions.

Which plants? Some bulbs (lilies, daffodils, hyacinths, and some alliums but not, apparently, tulips), some corms (crocus, gladiolas), as well as dallies, dandelions, and skunk cabbage. Sources state that over 400 species have this ability. I’m shocked it’s so few, given the obvious benefits.

How does a plant know when going deeper is “necessary”? So far, we know that blue light can trigger this. We know that blue light can because we have a study that looked at blue light (light toward the ultraviolet end of the spectrum and the light from our screens that can mess with our melatonin production and hence our sleep). My guess is there are other things that can cause a plant to literally “hunker down,” we just don’t know them yet.

How does the plant actually go deeper? They use their thick, fleshy, contractile roots. It’s a slow process, with each root contracting over a period of weeks. And, each root is a one-shot-deal. To go deeper, the plant must grow more of these specialized helpers.

As the spent roots decompose, openings in the soil are left behind, and those make it easier for the next generation of contractile roots to pull their cargo downward.

For a bulb you just planted, it may only want to adjust an inch or so, but what of the bulb seed that starts its new life on the surface? Same idea, just a more epic journey. It sprouts, and immediately the nascent bulb starts its journey. That can take over a year, but at the end of its efforts, it can happily be many inches under the surface.

But then it grows. Getting bigger puts the bulbs closer to the surface so the contractile roots get to work, pulling it back down as needed.

Bulbs use the same action to fix our mistakes. If we plant such a bulb upside down, it will send those roots out and down. As they contract, they slowly right themselves.

These plants are not passive, simply blooming where they were planted, but rather active beings adjusting their place in their world from the time they germinate to their last moment.

Nature is amazing.