What’s the Difference Between Seeds and Bulbs?

If you’re a novice in the gardening world one of the first items on your agenda will be choosing plants to grow. A point of confusion for many is the difference between plant seeds and bulbs, and what considerations, advantages or disadvantages there are between using one or the other.

Well the good news is that the answer is very simple.

A seed is exactly as you might expect, just the embroyonic essence of the plant contained in a very small package, which contains just enough food to sustain the new plant in its very early stages of growth. Seeds form from a process of sexual reproduction involving fertilising pollen landing on the female reproductive parts of the plant, a process which typically takes place at the end of the parent plant life cycle.

By contrast a bulb is produced asexually without any requirement for pollination, and as such every generation of plant that results from a bulb is genetically identical to the previous incarnation of the plant, hense bulbs are self sustaining structures, and are the basis for ‘perennial’ plants that regrow year after year. During the colder months of the year the bulb survives underground, it’s modified leaf layers providing food storage and nutriton to the fledgeling plant contained in the middle of the bulb. Once spring comes around the plant will then emerge from the bulb, before returning to its bulbous state once more in the winter.

In simple terms then a plant that grows from a seed is likely to be an annual plant, or possibly a biannual. This means you will only get a year or two’s growth from it before it will be gone for good. Perrenial bulb plants on the other hand will, if supported under the correct conditions, continue to emerge and grow year after year.

Of course perennial plants ultimately have a lifecycle too, and therefore they do also produce seeds. However these of course result from sexual fertilisation of the plant, therefore unlike when planting from bulbs, you can’t be sure what the resulting plant will look like once the seeds grow. Another disadvantage of planting perennials from seeds is that they take far longer, often several years, to grow and bloom.

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