Back to blog

The Difference between Bulbs, Tubers & Rhizomes

The Difference between Bulbs, Tubers & Rhizomes

The Difference between Bulbs, Tubers and Rhizomes

Bulbs, tubers, and rhizomes are all underground roots used by plants for storage and propagation. Each type plays a vital role in the survival and growth of various plant species, adapting to different environmental conditions.

What are bulbs?

Bulbs are underground food storage organs found in some plants, consisting of a central shoot surrounded by layers of modified leaves. These layers store nutrients and energy, enabling the plant to survive adverse conditions such as winter or drought. Bulbs serve as a means of propagation for many plant species, as new shoots can emerge from the bulb to grow into mature plants. Common examples of plants that grow from bulbs include onions, tulips, daffodils, and garlic.

What are tubers?

Tubers are modified, swollen underground roots of certain plants, typically used to store nutrients and energy. They are essential for the survival and propagation of the plant, as they serve as a reserve of resources during adverse conditions or for the development of new growth. Examples of tubers include common root vegetables such as potatoes and yams and flowers such as dahlia and begonia. These structures are rich in carbohydrates and provide an important food source for humans and animals.

What is a rhizome?

Rhizomes are stems of plants that grow underground horizontally, sending out roots and shoots from nodes along their length. They serve various functions, including storing energy reserves, vegetative reproduction, and helping plants spread across the soil. Rhizomes are characteristic of many plant species, including grasses, ferns, and some flowering plants such as irises. They play a crucial role in the survival and expansion of these species in diverse habitats.

What is the difference between bulbs, tubers and rhizomes?

Bulbs, tubers, and rhizomes are all specialized underground plant structures, each with distinct forms, functions, growth patterns, and modes of reproduction.


  • Bulbs: Bulbs are a central shoot surrounded by layers of modified leaves (scales) wrapped tightly together.
  • Tubers: Tubers are swollen underground stems that store nutrients and energy for the plant, often resembling thickened roots.
  • Rhizomes: Rhizomes are horizontal underground stems that grow horizontally, sending out roots and shoots from nodes along their length.


  • Bulbs: Bulbs serve as storage organs, storing nutrients and energy reserves for the plant to survive adverse conditions and initiate new growth.
  • Tubers: Tubers also function as storage organs, storing starches and other nutrients that the plant can utilize during periods of growth or dormancy.
  • Rhizomes: Rhizomes primarily serve as structures for vegetative reproduction and spreading. They store nutrients and energy reserves and produce new shoots and roots along their length, enabling the plant to colonize new areas.


  • Bulbs: Bulbs can reproduce vegetatively by producing offsets or bulblets, which are small bulbs that develop around the base of the parent bulb.
  • Tubers: Tubers primarily reproduce vegetatively, with new plants emerging from buds (eyes) on the surface of the tuber or from new tubers that form on the parent tuber.
  • Rhizomes: Rhizomes reproduce vegetatively by sending out lateral shoots or by forming new rhizomes at nodes along their length. These lateral shoots or rhizomes can develop into independent plants, allowing for the rapid spread of the species.





One central shoot, surrounded by leaves called scales.

Nutrient and energy storage

New shoots grow from the central shoot in the growing season


Swollen underground stems - similar to thickened roots.

Nutrient and energy storage

New shoots and roots develop from the “eye” of the parent tuber


Roots that grow horizontally, with shoots coming out of nodes.

Primarily reproduction

Roots have horizontal growth underground. From nodes grow new shoots and roots.

Frequently asked questions

What are true bulbs?

True bulbs are plant bulbs that resemble an onion-like sphere with a pointy end. They are found in plants like tulips, onions, and lilies. True bulbs consist of modified leaves surrounding a central shoot, with a basal plate for root attachment and a dry outer layer called a tunic. These bulbs store nutrients, enabling the plant to survive and propagate.

What are corms (bulb corms)?

Think of corms as similar to a bulb, with a few discrepancies. Unlike bulbs, which have leaves around a central shoot, corms are solid throughout. There is a paper-thin layer covering corms. They have roots (basal plate), and their shoots grow upwards above the soil surface.

Does ginger have a rhizome or a tuber?

Ginger is a type of rhizome. Like other types of rhizomes, ginger has modified underground plant stems that grow horizontally.

Are there such things as spring bulbs?

Yes, spring bulbs exist. They’re meant to be planted in the spring and give off flowers in the fall. Their counterparts are fall bulbs, which can be planted in the fall to give flowers around early spring.

What is the correct umbrella term for bulbs?

The correct umbrella term for bulbs, according to master gardeners and horticulturalists, is “geophytes”. This term refers to perennial plants that have underground food storage organs.
Meet Ben, our Flower Bulb Specialist
Meet Ben, our Flower Bulb Specialist

Gardening challenges?

Send me your questions! or read more about me.