Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Learning to love the species

Acuminata, tarda, and turkistanica, 2006 photos

When I first considered tulips, I didn’t want to think about anything other than the large hybrids. My knowledgeable friend told me that the species tulips would perennialize better; I’m not even sure I knew what that meant. But then I watched the hybrids decline, and always hated their too-prominent foliage. Lilies became more rewarding; the stalks declined at the end of the summer rather than the beginning.

Eventually, my interest was piqued by the species, starting with humilis alba coerulea oculata (loved the pure blue, unadulterated by yellow or purple, which features in so many species). Those proved to be short-lived and I moved on to turkistanica, a white/yellow variety that is multi-flowering and has lasted (increasing too) at least five years so far. Others I’ve accumulated include clusiana (Lady Jane and Cynthia), batalini (red and yellow), and praestans fusilier. This year I’ve ordered acuminata (last year’s did not repeat, so we’ll give it another shot), bakari Lilac Wonder, batalini Bronze Charm, and humilis Persian Pearl. They look like wildflowers in the garden and are just as subtle so you need quite a few to create an effect. I’m not quite there yet, though I’ve created a new bed that will accommodate them as well as other perennials. Also, though these can perennialize (as my long-ago friend said), some do quite better than others. Some don't do well at all.

I also love the history of these flowers, most discovered growing wild in the mountains of Greece, Turkey, and locations in Central Asia. I think clusiana was the first to be named by naturalists, in 1803, while many of the others were brought into mainsteam bulb culture later in the nineteenth century. They weren’t part of bulbmania. And they’ve only recently become part of my bulbmania.


Layanee said...


I'm sorry to hear that the T. hum alba coerulea oculata...boy that is a mouthful, did not naturalize or even last very long as I just received some and they were not cheap! I know I ordered 'Lady Jane' because I read about it on one of the blogs and I have grown 'Lilac Wonder' and you will be pleased with that one I think! Have you ever grown Camassia? Just wondering as it is a new one for me!

jodi said...

Lovely post on the species tulips. I've never tried growing acuminata, because it just doesn't do anything for me. Given the price of THAC (the white one with the blue eyes) and the fact that it didn't do well for you, I'll give it a pass and purchase other species instead.

EAL said...

If you look at THAC's description in Tulipa (which I wish I had), it says "not a good grower." "does not multiply"

I think even some of the good catalogs caution about it.

Carol said...

Eliz... Have you read the book Tulipmania, I think it is, about the history of tulips? I'm kind of glat that I think it is too late to order more bulbs, otherwise, I might be ordering more tulips, the species kind.

Carol at May Dreams Gardens

EAL said...

It's not too late at all!

Yes, I've heard of the book, but don't have it. I have the Pavord title.

firefly said...

I actually got into species tulips because they are easy to force (especially if you are a singleton and you don't care about pots of dirt in the refrigerator). I had a studio apartment with huge east-facing windows and wide sills and I filled up each one with big pots of greigii and muscari and things I don't even remember now.

I much prefer them in the garden, though -- it's a crime to have to throw them out when they're finished blooming.

Sue Swift said...

I'm not a tulip lover ...but some of those might make me change my mind.

kate said...

I've always liked the species tulips better than their taller brethren. They grow so well here and I much prefer how their foliage just fades away.

lisa said...

Thank you for this post! I've never tried these, but I see them in several catalogs that I get. Unfortunately, most of my catalogs have no pictures, so thank you for those! I'd love to see more!

mmw said...

Lisa, Wilford and the PBS wiki are a good places to look at tulip species.

BTW, T. acuminata is assumed to be an escape from cultivation, from the hybrids cultivated during the Turkish bulb mania described in Pavord's book.

Rosie said...

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