Autumn Colour of Sternbergia lutea

Solitary, yellow Winter Daffodil amid clump of leaves
Sternbergia lutea at Kew Gardens. © Karen Netto (Andrews)

Sternbergia lutea stands out on a drab, autumn day with its bright yellow, crocus-like flowers. It goes by a host of common names:

  • Winter Daffodil
  • Autumn Daffodil
  • Fall Daffodil
  • Lily-of-the-field
  • Yellow Autumn Crocus
  • Yellow Amaryllis
  • Yellow Starflower.

Hardy

Its starlike qualities have been recognised by an Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Award of Garden Merit (AGM). It originates from Europe. It is hardy autumn bulb that can tolerate an average British winter down to between -10ºC and -5ºC. Nonetheless, it appreciates a sheltered position in the garden away from cold winds. The leaves appear before the flowers. The flowers can last from September into November, when there is little other colourful competition. The leaves form clumps that are best divided in the following August/September.

Colour

Linnaeus first named the plant Amaryllis lutea in his 1753 Species Plantarum. The Latin word lutea describes the flower’s yellow hue. It isn’t just any yellow. It is a strong, rich colour. For example, Pliny the Elder used the term to describe the bright yellow of an egg yolk.

Czech Connection

At first sight, the current Latin genus name appears formed from a compound of the German words Stern for star and Berg for mountain. The plant is actually named after the aristocratic Kaspar Maria von Sternberg (1761-1838). He was born in Prague, Bohemia (the modern-day Czech Republic or Czechia). After disappointing as a Church diplomat, he focused on botany. The family’s estate gave him direct access to coalfields with fossilised plants. His work has led to recognition as one of the key founders of paleobotany – i.e. the study of fossil plants.

Commemoration

Although Kaspar Maria von Sternberg died without issue as the last in his line, his collections and contributions to botany live on. They are commemorated in a number of technical terms and names in geology, fossils, animals and plants. These include our stunning, autumn star-performer Sternbergia lutea.

Gallery of Images

Bright yellow autumn flowers of Sternbergia lutea at Waterperry Gardens
Sternbergia lutea close up. © Karen Netto (Andrews)

References and Further Reading

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