Species tulip history

The key to success in growing tulips is understanding their origins. Tulips were brought from Turkey to Europe in the 16th century. Most originated in areas with hills, mountains and rocky valleys (read, areas with sharply drained soil). They then entered the gardens of central and northern Europe. The Dutch were particularly enthusiastic about these plants, and in fact dominate tulip growing to thus day. They began breeding tulips, but in the process and as these plants moved to areas with different soil than their native mix, some tulips lost the ability to survive multiple seasons in the soil. The result of this is that people began favoring tulips that can withstand wetter conditions; hence the popularity of Darwin Tulips, which were popularized by Dutch grower E.H. Krelage when he exhibited a display of them at the 1889 Great Exhibition in Paris. Darwins are probably the most heavily planted tulips. You see them everywhere. But if you would like tulips with similar, if not more longevity, and want to be a little different try some of the ones below.

And remember, if you never water, any tulip will last longer. But if you live in a rainy climate, or water your yard, longevity for tulips is limited.

Tulipa turkestanica was a species tulip that was included, in October of 2002, as a gift, with my order from a company. I put them in the ground, they bloomed and I dug them up and stored them, as was my custom. I was surprised to find that there were more of them when I dug them, despite the fact that I had watered the area. They seemed to propagate by expanding through string like devices. I thought, wow! But then I failed to dig them up the following year, and assumed that they had died. Imagine my surprise when, the following spring, they not only returned, but there were more of them, so this should be regarded as a spreading tulip. Also, this tulip is cluster flowering, producing multiple flowers from a single stem. Both spreading and cluster flowering? Wow.

Having learned my lesson, I stopped digging them up at all. At my new home, I installed them in a couple of places, and every year I have more, without ever digging them up, and much to my surprise, they come back despite being watered. It is an heirloom from 1875. It is the earliest to emerge and bloom in my garden. It produces multiple flowers on a stem. The interior is white with an orange-yellow center, and the exterior is brushed gray-violet.

It grows 8 inches tall in zones 4-8. Highly recommended.

tulipa turkestanica

Tulipa tarda provides a little more brightness. Hardy in USDA zones 3 to zone 8, might be a good choice for those gardens.

It, too is cluster flowered, producing three to six up facing flowers on plants that are about 5 inches across.

tulip tarda

'Tubergen's Gem' is in the clusiana family of species tulip. It lights up the garden with its flamelike -scarlet and yellow blooms borne on slender stems up to a foot long. It is a mid-spring bloomer, and has a reputation for gently spreading.

tubergen's gem tulip

Is it a crocus or is it a tulip? Tulipa humilis 'Violacea' tulip may have you wondering. It's a dwarf species displaying cup-shape magenta blooms with a black base inside. Rather than standing upright like crocus leaves, these red-edged leaves hug the ground. It grows 4-6 inches tall. This one will wake you up!

tulip violacea

If you would like a tulip that is of more conventional height - 10 inches, then humilis 'Red Hunter' might fit the bill. It has bright red blooms and its leaves are blue-green.

tulip red hunter

'Honky Tonk' is a clusiana type of tulip that is hardy from zones 3-9 It has unusual coloring in that it is yellow with peach overtones. It grows 8 inches tall.

tulip honky tonk

There are many more examples of these wonderful hardy tulips. Please explore them for extra early color in your spring garden.

Species tulips, while smaller than typical tulips, are the most perennial of all. Some do return better than others: kaufmann, greigies, Single lates, and of course the familiar Darwins. Some diminish even if you do dig them up. I love the multiflowering Triumphs 'Happy Family and 'Weisse Berlinner', but even if you dig and dry them, they split into singles.

Perennial Tulips

Generally speaking, the most perennial tulips are those of the Darwin Group and their hybrids and also the species or botanical tulips. The triumph tulips are nearly as perennial though they will not cope well with environmental conditions that are less than ideal.

I have species tulips that I have left in the ground for ten years, and they not only return, but some bring friends. Here are some of my favorites.

Species tulips

Species Tulips are diminutive beauties ideal for niches in terraces, beneath deciduous trees and shrubs, and in rock gardens. With good drainage and lots of sun, they are especially long-lived.

For more information on Tulip care, click Growing Guide.

In fact, many species tulips are almost as reliable as daffodils. Coming from mountainous regions, severe weather is a walk in the park. Yes, they are small.

Species tulips are as reliable as daffodils and, while they're shorter, smaller and seem more delicate, they've got the stamina for long-lived displays. Most species tulips hail from the mountainous regions of northern Turkey, so they can cope with extreme weather.

Tulipa humilis

Tulipa humilis var. pulchella is white with a steel blue interior that can be viewed both from the inside and outside. Better planted in masses, this is one of the more expensive species tulips. Hardy in zones three to 8, it is 4 to 5 inches tall and should closely planted with a spacing of two to 3 inches.

white and blue species tulip

Tulip clusiana 'Lady Jane' is one the taller species tulips at 12' high. It somewhat resembles a candy cane and is delicate yet striking. It's appearance is different when open as opposed to closed. It has a rosy and white extrior and a white and yellow interior. It is completely charming.

pink and white species tulip

A scented, cherry-red miniature with a delightful, white-edged, blue center, 'Little Beauty' is wonderful in garden borders, rock gardens and underplantings. She is shown here in a signature blend with Tulipa 'Little Princess' Bulb size: 5 to 6 cm. Early May. HZ: 4-8. 4".

Species tulip 'Little Beauty"

red and blue species tulip

The following tulip species are more challenging, requiring a good summer baking to perform well. Due to my growing conditions, I have to grow these as annuals. Some will come back for a few years, but for me, they gradually die off. Gardeners in the mid-west would probably have better luck. Tulipa bakeri produces a single, glossy, bright green leaf. The flower stems reach 15-20 cm topped by a single mauve-pink flower with a striking yellow center. ‘Lilac Wonder’ is the standard selection. Tulipa saxatilis is very similar but has more lilac-pink flowers. Tulipa clusiana is one of the taller species tulips (25-35 cm) with narrow, grey-green foliage and small flowers the shape of Fosteriana tulips. There are two main selections: ‘Cynthia’ (red and yellow) and ‘Peppermint Stick’ (red and white). Tulipa humilis is a striking species whose flowers are magenta with a bright yellow center. They grow 10-15 cm tall. There are several named selections including ‘Eastern Star’ (rose-pink), ‘Persian Pearl’ (magenta with silvery lilac outer petals) and ‘Violacea’ (purple). Tulipa linifolia has very narrow foliage on a 20-30 cm plant. The star-shaped flowers are red or yellow. Tulipa kolpakowskiana is a most charming species reaching just 10-15 cm. The flowers are mini yellow stars set atop narrow, blue-grey, wavy-edged leaves. Among the tallest species is T. marjolletii, with plants growing to 50 cm. The flowers are like a smaller version of the modern tulip. They are creamy-yellow with pinkish-red margins and flesh. Tulipa acuminata is quite a bizarre species. Plants reach 30-45 cm and have yellow, red-tinted flowers whose petals are very narrow with long-pointed tips.