En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Wednesday - June 13, 2012

From: Saint Louis, MO
Region: Midwest
Topic: Plant Identification
Title: Identity of bulbs from digging in an anthole
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I was digging in an ant hole and it collapsed and as I dug it out, I found around 50 white bulbs that did not have a smell or roots. They resembled onion bulbs. I have a picture of these and they are actually a little more slender than your traditional onion bulb. What are these?


That's a really tough question because: 

1)  You didn't say where you digging.  Was it in the woods?  in a flower bed? in your lawn?

2)  Did the bulbs have any other living plant material with them?  a stem?  leaves?

3)  What size were they?  an inch in diameter?  half an inch?

The toughest part of the question is, however, that even if you had provided these facts, there really isn't a database for identifying bulbs.  Also, there are several bulb-like structures—corms, tubers, tuberous roots, rhizomes—that are confused with true "bulbs".  Many plants in the Family Liliaceae (Lily Family), Family Iridaceae (Iris Family) and Family Orchidaceae (Orchid family) have bulbs, but there are many other plant families that have bulbs as well so there isn't really a good place to start a search for what type of bulbs they might be.  Here are the plant families that the Pacific Bulb Society lists as having bulbs.  You can see by their page "What is a Bulb" that their definition is not as strict as the one given above.

If the bulbs you dug up were in a flower bed or a lawn, they are very likely a bulb from a non-native plant and, since our focus and expertise are with plants native to North America, we aren't like to be much help in identifying them.

If you found them in the woods or where other native plants grow naturally, it is more likely that they are the bulbs from native plants.  If you normally visit the area, do you remember seeing plants growing where you were digging?  That would give you a clue as to what they are.

Either way, your best bet to find out what they are is to either plant the bulbs you dug out and see what grows from them or watch the area where you dug them to see what sort of plants show up there.  When you have a plant to associate with the bulbs, take a photo of it (wait for it to bloom, if possible), then visit our Plant Identification page to find links to several plant identification forums that accept photos of plants for identification.  You could try submitting a photo of the bulbs you found to one of these forums, but I think it is very unlikely that anyone could identify them.



More Plant Identification Questions

Plant identification
September 29, 2010 - What is the name of the beautiful pink flowers with tiny Orchid-like blossoms occurring now all alongside the highways in the Bee Cave, TX and hill country area? Is it "slenderleaf false foxglove",...
view the full question and answer

Plant ID in Crossville TN
July 12, 2009 - I live in Crossville TN and have found a common plant on hikes in the state park. It has long (1-1.5)narrow leaves that are green and deep red? What is it please?
view the full question and answer

Question about dwarf oyster plant, Tradescantia spathacea
June 12, 2009 - I sm looking for Dwarf Oyster plant like the one described about 3-4 inches in height, color green and purple. But the nurseries here in Clearwater FL don't seem to know what I am talking about. S...
view the full question and answer

Difference between Erigeron strigosus and E. annuus
July 07, 2011 - How can you tell the difference between Erigeron strigosus or Erigeron annuus. Does one have more flowers on it than the other? Thanks.
view the full question and answer

Muscari neglectum image
March 23, 2007 - I am doing a school project and found a native plant on the native plant information network image gallery. It is plant NPIN Image Id 524. What is it's name?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center