Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa) is an old-fashioned garden plant with an extremely potent fragrance. Originally from Mexico, it has been cultivated for centuries as a cut flower, as well as for the perfume industry.
Tuberose is related to agave plants and has thin, wispy leaves that are reminiscent of its cousins in the arid regions of the southwestern U.S. and Mexico. The stems rise three feet from the ground in late summer and unfold a series of two-inch tubular flowers one by one over the course of many weeks.
Tuberose grows from an elongated tuber which is hardy in USDA zones 8 to 10, but the tubers can be dug up and overwintered indoors in colder climates.
Growing Tuberose in the Garden
Tuberose is a good choice for a cut flower garden along with plants like lisianthus and Shasta daisies. It is suitable for perennial borders and cottage gardens, as well as in pots and planters on a patio or deck. Massing them in a large field is another option, but be prepared to be overpowered by the fragrance.
How to Grow Tuberose
Plant tuberose in full sun in a bed of rich, well-drained soil. It is a heat-loving plant, so in northern areas or cool coastal climates it is best planted against a south-facing wall for extra warmth. The tubers should be planted on their side about three inches deep and spaced eight to 10 inches apart.
Overall, tuberose is pretty easy to care for, though if you garden in a colder climate (colder than zone 8) you do have an additional step if you want to save them year to year.
- Tuberoses require regular water, but it is best to let the soil dry between waterings. Irrigating once per week if there has been no rain is usually sufficient.
- Fertilize tuberose monthly during the growing season with a balanced all-purpose fertilizer, such as 10-10-10.
- Allow the foliage to remain on the plant after the flowers have faded so they can continue to photosynthesize and store energy in the roots for the following season. When the leaves turn yellow, clip the stalks at the base.
- In cold winter climates, dig up the tubers after the stalks have faded in fall, allow them to dry for a few days, and then store in a box of slightly moist sand or sawdust.
- Every few years, dig up and divide the tubers to keep them from becoming overly crowded, replanting the largest tubers at a 10-inch spacing.
- Tuberose is virtually never bothered by pests and disease.
Tuberose is not widely available in nurseries, but it can be found at many mail order suppliers. They're available in both single- and double-flowering varieties.
Single varieties have delicate, single-petalled blooms that have an almost star-shaped form to them.
- 'Mexican' is a common heirloom variety with single white flowers.
- 'Shringar' is a single variety with buds that are a soft pink, opening into mostly white blossoms.
- 'Yellow Baby' has lemon yellow flowers on dwarf plants just 10 inches tall.
Double tuberose varieties have blooms that look almost rose or peony-like, with their multiple petals and fuller blooms.
- 'Double Pearl' is a double white-flowered hybrid form with a touch of pink on the flower buds.
- 'Sensation' is a very pale pink double tuberose that blooms on 24 to 36-inch stems.
Tuberose is a popular scent in both bath and body products and home fragrances. It's best described as a creamy, honey-like fragrance with a soft floral note. In general, it's a soft, summery scent.
Tuberose has come to symbolize many different things, some rather contradictory to others, as you'll see below.
- The Victorians, rather well-known for assigning symbolism to flowers, associated tuberose with voluptuousness and love.
- Because of its pure white color, tuberose can also stand for purity, peace and innocence, and for this reason it was a popular flower to add to bridal bouquets.
- And, finally (and contrasting with the previous symbolism) because of its somewhat exotic fragrance, it can also sometimes symbolize passionate or forbidden love.
As with most types of symbolism, you'll find the meaning that works for you when working with tuberose.
If you're a fan of fragrant flowers, tuberose will win you right over. Few plants possess such sweet, pure, and powerful fragrance -- plant a few tubers and surprise your horticultural friends with this nearly forgotten gem.