Sternbergia Waldst. & Kit. contains 7 accepted species and it occurs from the Mediterranean to Eastern Europe, Asia Minor, the Caucasus and Iran (World Checklist of Monocotyledons), although species diversity is highest in the eastern Mediterranean (Gage & Wilkin, 2008). Some species are valued in horticulture and have become naturalized elsewhere. They produce mainly yellow flowers appearing in autumn, with the exception of S. vernalis (Mill.) Gorer & J.H.Harvey and S. candida B.Mathew & T.Baytop, where anthesis occurs in winter-spring, with the latter species possessing a creamy–white perianth (Gage & Wilkin, 2008).
Although most Sternbergia species can be differentiated by discrete taxonomic characters, S. lutea (L.) Ker Gawl. ex Spreng and allies S. sicula Tineo ex Guss. and S.greuteriana Kamari & R.Artelari, have been shown to be an exception (Gage & Wilkin, 2008). A recent morphometric study by Gage & Wilkin (2008) has shown that "as a result of the continuous variation shown in leaf width, tube length and perianth segment size and shape, it is not possible to differentiate the three existing species from each other".Therefore, it was suggested that the three taxa above should be regarded as a single species, S. lutea.
Sternbergia species are often confused with Crocus (Iridaceae) and Colchicum (Colchicaceae) because they all have erect, short-stemmed goblet-shaped flowers (Mathew, 1983). However, while Crocus has three stamens, Sternbergia and Colchicum have six stamens. In turn, Sternbergia has one style and an inferior ovary (seen as a swelling beneath the flower), whereas Colchicum has three separate styles with a superior ovary (hidden below ground) (Mathew, 1983).