A bulb is a short stem with fleshy leaves or leaf bases. The leaves often function as food storage organs during dormancy.
A bulb\'s leaf bases generally do not support leaves, but contain food reserves to enable the plant to survive adverse conditions. The leaf bases may resemble scales, or they may overlap and surround the center of the bulb as with the onion. A modified stem forms the base of the bulb, and plant growth occurs from this basal plate. Roots emerge from the underside of the base, and new stems and leaves from the upper side.
Other types of storage organs (such as corms, rhizomes, and tubers) are sometimes erroneously referred to as bulbs. The correct term for plants that form underground storage organs, including bulbs as well as tubers and corms, is geophyte. Some epiphytic orchids (family Orchidaceae) form aboveground storage organs called pseudobulbs, that superficially resemble bulbs.
All plants that form true bulbs are monocotyledons, and include:
1) Onion, garlic, and other alliums, family Alliaceae.
2) Lily, tulip, and many other members of the lily family Liliaceae.
3) Amaryllis, Hippeastrum, Narcissus, and several other members of the amaryllis family Amaryllidaceae.
4) Two groups of Iris species, family Iridaceae: subgenus Xiphium (the \"Dutch\" irises) and subgenus Hermodactyloides (the miniature \"rock garden\" irises).
Some lilies form small bulbs, called bulbils in their leaf axils. Several members of the onion family, Alliaceae, including Allium sativum (garlic), form bulbils in their flower heads, sometimes as the flowers fade, or even instead of the flowers. The so-called Tree onion (Allium cepa var. proliferum) forms small onions, which are large enough for pickling.
Some ferns, such as Hen and Chicken Fern grow offshoots on top of their fronds, which are also referred to as bulbils.
Some bulbs require a cold winter frost to bloom perennially. In the southern United States, bulbs species have developed which do not need this cold frost to return year after year and multiply.
Other bulbs, such as Amaryllis belladonna, do not require frost, and are in fact frost tender.