Sternbergias on a hairpin

If you’ve followed the discussion after that last post (I love those replies), you’d have seen Cathy’s on Sternbergia – an Autumn-flowering crocus-like thing.

It had me trawling through pics that I knew I’d taken, but don’t ever remember seeing, of the only time I’d seen Sternbergia naturalised/wild.

We’d just left Ninfa, widely considered the most romantic garden in the world.  You can check out the earlier post on it here, or maybe content yourself with this snapshot.

We were heading up the vertical cliff-face behind it, up to the village of Norma, perched hundreds of feet above.  ie

The hairpin bends are so tight on the climb, the bus had to wiggle its way around each one with a three to four-point turn.  On the side of the road in almost soil-less conditions were great clumps of Sternbergia.  The dodgy pic (top image), through the bus window, can’t possibly communicate the brilliance of the moment.


  1. My , how wrong can one be. I always thought they were Sth African. Well they seem to be that sort of plant. Various sites (sorry; internet sites not geographical) say their origin is obscure as they have for so long been cultivated as a garden plant. Makes me wonder how many such assumptions we make and how these guide our garden practices. How much influence does the “look” of a plant influence where we plant individuals in various microclimates of our own garden.

    1. That’s why I hedged my bets with the ‘wild/naturalised’. And as for our assumptions about growing conditions, I’ve always thought (assumed? been taught? read?) of them liking very dry conditions (and I recall a comment of yours years back about them flowering their heads off in granitic soils in the Semour area), and I initially thought that the location of these photographed plants backed that up. But Ninfa (nearby) has a fabulous rainfall, from memory, so it’s possible that this cliff provides heat, low fertility and perfect drainage, but not necessarily extreme dry.
      We need Marcus Harvey to clear this up for us!
      Then I need to get my hands on a really free-flowering form.

    2. Did you know that in Castlemaine they have avenues of Sernbergias not daffodils. In their climate they really need to celebrate the end of summer.

    3. No! I didn’t know! Where are they? Could I find them easily? Who mows them – or in other words, who is told NOT to mow them?

  2. Sternbergias are definitely Mediterranean. Southern Greece, Italy etc. There are a number of different species – including a lovely white one. The yellow one most often seen in Australia is S. sicula.

    1. And all those years we all thought it was S. lutea… (though a quick look at an article from the Pacific Bulb Society says that some botanists put recognise it as a subspecies of lutea (, which makes us all slightly less wrong.) And I’ve just googled the white sp (S. candida) – looks fabulous. Surely that Marcus Harvey has got hold of some. Thanks for taking us deeper!

  3. Hi again,
    As Anita says sternbergias are a Mediterranean-type genus. They range from Italy through to Syria and all are yellow except S. candida, and some are spring-flowering but not the ones we usually see in Australia. As to the S. sicula vs S. lutea debate – who knows? Some are bigger, some have more upright leaves, some more falcate. I think as genomics and cyctology enter further into the debate we will probably see a proliferation of subspecies, etc. Not very meaningful to gardeners but lots of fun for taxomonists! I can remember sternbergias being widely offered when I first started gardening but they seem to have taken a back seat over time, a bit like the smaller hybrid gladdies. Just one last aside, S. candida is EXTREMELY rare and is restricted to one site on Baba Dag in SW Turkey. It was illegally dug from there literally in its thousands back in the 1990s but is now closely protected inside a national park. Cheers, Marcus

  4. BTW (I don’t know if this permitted but anyway … ) I currently have some seeds of one of rare, spring-flowering species for sale. Sternbergia clusiana is normally found in Jordan, Syria and eastern Turkey but for some reason, better known to God, it touches down in Greece on the island of Samos. It has the LARGEST flowers of all the sternbergias and beautiful wavy, grey leaves.
    Cheers, Marcus

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