Gardeners in the western world have been hybridizing tulips for about 400 years. The resulting flowers have been varied, luscious, and mostly beautiful. However, tulips started out as wildflowers that grew on mostly rocky terrain from Central Asia to the Balkans. These wildflowers, and their near kin, are grown today as species tulips.
This seems like a good day to write about species tulips. For one thing, their season is coming to a close. For another, I was inspired by a recent post on this subject by Annette on My Personal Eden.
While not as sumptuous as their highly bred cousins, species tulips are beautiful in their own right and have a number of advantages over the hybrids. For one thing, under the right conditions they usually live longer than the hybrids, and may even naturalize in your garden. For another, the bulbs are smaller and are easier to fit into the open spaces between perennials. The foliage, too, while often attractive, is not as heavy as the hybrids’ and will fade away less conspicuously.
In my garden I grow these species tulips:
Tulipa turkestanica. White tepals with a yellow base. A low growing early bloomer that spreads slowly and is long-lived. Like many species tulips, the flowers open up almost flat in full sun and close in the evening.
Tulipa biflora. Flowers grow in threes with the same colors as above. However, the bloom is a cup shaped with a more delicate texture. Blooms in April. Has staying power but does not spread.
Lady tulips (Tulipa tarda). Yellow flowers edged with white. Blooms a little later than the tulips mentioned above. Spreads modestly.
Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’. Purple-red flowers with a white and blue center. Blooms in May. Lasts for several years but does not spread in my garden. Less than 6″ tall. Cute!
Tulipa ‘Little Princess’. Much like ‘Little Beauty’, but these are orange with a black and yellow center.
Tulipa clusiana. Red and yellow on the outside, yellow with a red center on the inside. Elegantly shaped, in my opinion.
Tulipa praestans. This is a heartbreaker, because the scarlet red flowers are the most beautiful of all the species tulips – but in my garden it is short-lived. Still worth planting, though. ‘Fusilier’ is probably the most common variety, ‘Unicom’ has variegated leaves.
Generally if you want to buy species tulips you will need to get them from a good quality mail order retailer. As a general rule, these tulips like sun, a cold winter, a hot summer, and decent drainage (but check the recommended USDA zones for each species).
Do you grow species tulips in your garden?