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Buried treasures: the nature and art of bulbs (2006): Home

October 7, 2006 – January 7, 2007

Scilla maritima bulb and cutaway view showing bulb interior

Buried Treasures: The Nature and Art of Bulbs presented sumptuously illustrated folios and original artwork spanning more than three centuries. The exhibition celebrated the lush beauty of flowering bulbs through a cross-section of extraordinary works of art, rare books, and other treasures from the LuEsther T. Mertz Library. It also chronicled the many uses of these popular perennials, from the ornamental to culinary to medicinal. 

Highlights included masterpieces of botanical art by renowned artists such as Georg Dionysius Ehret, Pierre-Joseph Redouté, and Walter Hood Fitch. Among the superb historical illustrations on display were Basilius Besler's striking and intricately detailed crown imperial fritillaria, originally engraved in 1613, and a beautiful hand-colored lithograph of a crinum lily published in 1830-32 from a drawing by Vishnupersaud. 

Buried Treasures: The Nature and Art of Bulbs provided attendees the opportunity to showcase works from the many rich collections of the Mertz Library, one of the largest and most important botanical and horticultural research libraries in the world. An exhibition of this quality depends on a diverse team from the Library's research and conservation staff as well as contributions from the Garden's Horticulture, Graphics, and Editorial departments. NYBG was pleased to have well-known writer, lecturer, garden consultant, and bulb aficionado Judy Glattstein as guest curator for this exhibition. The result was a stunningly beautiful presentation that was an inspiration to all visitors.

Gregory Long
President, The New York Botanical Garden
(This is the original essay from the exhibition catalog.  It has been modified for tense.) 

White daffodils

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Recommended Reading

What is a Bulb?

Man admiring woman admiring tulips in a garden

Bulbs are plants that have found a way of coping with hard times and harsh conditions such as seasonal drought or winter cold by storing nutrients and moisture underground in special structures. For convenience, gardeners often call them all bulbs even though these storage structures take many forms and develop from different parts of the plant.

True bulbs such as onions, tulips, and lilies have overlapping, fleshy leaf bases (for example, thè rings of an onion) wrapped around a tiny shoot that will become the new plant. Some true bulbs have a papery outer covering; others do not. Crocuses and gladiolus have solid, flattened corms, actually swollen stem tissue, adapted for food storage. Tubers such as potatoes and some arums are also starch-filled stem tissue, often irregularly shaped. Trilliums and many irises have rhizomes, which are swollen stems that creep horizontally underground producing roots underneath and leafy shoots from one end. Other plants like dahlias and sweet potatoes have swollen, tuber-like roots, called tuberous roots, which store food to nourish the young shoots.

No matter what their storage structures may be, bulbs are versatile and beautiful plants with a wide range of uses in the home and garden.

Close up of purple hyacinth flowers