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Plant of the Week: Autumn Daffodil (Lily of the Field)

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture does not promote, support or recommend plants featured in "Plant of the Week." Please consult your local Extension office for plants suitable for your region.

Plant of the Week

Autumn Daffodil, Lily of the Field
Latin: Sternbergia lutea

No photo available.

With all of the excitement that bulbs cause in March, it is surprising that fall bulbs create so little interest.

The reason is that they arrive when the garden is already awash in color and a few delicate additions are easily overlooked and outshone by the visually more demanding plants of the fall garden. But there is a pecking order amongst even the fall bulbs, with the lovely Sternbergia at the end of the line.

Sternbergia flowers bloom in September and October on 8- to 10-inch tall stems with upturned golden, goblet shaped blooms. The flowers are to 2 inches across and are produced singly at the end of the blooming scape, but each bulb can produce up to four scapes. The plant is classified in the amaryllis family because of the papery sheath that surrounds the unopened flower bud. Leaves are daffodil-like and appear with the flowers in the fall and eventually reach 12 inches in length. The bulb is hardy throughout the state. Bulbs are available from mail order bulb merchants but are almost never in the boxed bulb displays one sees in the stores.

Our plant is named after Count Kaspar von Sternberg (1761-1838), an Austrian botanist and founder of the Bohemian National Museum in Prague. There are eight species in the genus, all from southern Europe and Turkey. This species hails from Palestine, Syria and Persia and is one of several bulb species that may have been the "lilies of the fields" mentioned in the Bible. It has long been grown in this country, and for many years the only source for bulbs in the Virginia colony was from the Palace Garden in Williamsburg.

Sternbergia is adaptable and can be planted in full sun or light shade. The long-necked bulbs are usually planted 4 to 6 inches deep in well drained soil. Overly deep planting will discourage blooming. It is ideally suited for planting in groundcover beds, in the rock garden or amongst spring blooming plants such as creeping phlox or dianthus. The foliage will persist through the winter and die down during the spring. This little bulb resents being moved so once a colony is established, pretty much leave it alone unless you need to divide it to increase the size of the planting.

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - October 15, 1999


The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.