Dwarf Tulipa - PBS & Alpine-L Topic of the Week (RePOSTED)

Antennaria@aol.com Antennaria@aol.com
Fri, 20 Feb 2004 20:03:04 PST
Hi folks,

Sorry, but for some reason in my introduction message on Dwarf Tulipa, each 
URL became doubled and concatenated into a much longer URL that obviously would 
not work.  So, I am reposting the message hoping the URLs will not misbehave 
this time around.  In my previous message I also neglected to include a most 
important URL; a link to this month's companion site, the Pacific Bulb Society 
(PBS) web site, where in little over a year a remarkable photo gallery has 
been amassed on bulbous genera.  I have added pertinent links to that site at the 
end of this message.

Dwarf Tulipa                                    by Mark McDonough

I've never been a fan of tulips, finding them too tall and fancy, the foliage 
corpulent and unrefined.  The flowers are sumptuous to be sure, but that's 
beside the point.  I plant 'Red Emperor' and 'Yellow Emperor' for my mom; she 
adores them. In 3-4 years hence, I must dig them out, the waning bulbs 
sputtering feeble distorted foliage and few diminished blooms, to be replaced with 
freshly planted Holland-grown bulbs. And the cycle continues.

Rock gardeners tend to shun tulips, the allure of growing them spoiled by 
centuries of selection and over hybridization.  We think of tulips as bedding 
plants suitable for seasonal floral display in parks, corporate landscapes, and 
botanical gardens; definitely not for the rock garden in the true sense.  Even 
the lovely Tulipa greigii-kaufmanniana hybrids, dwarf enough for rock garden 
consideration, are still too portly and ostentatious for inclusion. 

Instead, we rock gardeners prefer to grow "species crocus" (not the inflated 
Dutch crocus, absolutely not), dwarf narcissus (but with Narcissus, even full 
sized daffodils are admissible), dwarf reticulata iris, galanthus, scilla, 
muscari, any fritillary that will grow, no matter the size, and various other 
"minor bulbs".  The enlightened also grow Allium <grin>.  Tulipa species are 
poorly represented in rock gardens, perhaps not because they are deliberately 
shunned, but because we fail to consider them.

It wasn't until recent years that I discovered the charm of dwarf Tulipa 
species. Reluctantly I tried a couple species with the conviction bulbs would 
fizzle out in a few years, as their fancy brethren do. But they didn't fizzle out, 
and instead continued to grow, increase, and flower reliably for many years 
without signs of decline. Dwarf species Tulips are now among my favorite bulbs, 
and my journey in search of dwarf Tulipa is just beginning.  I still hold the 
line at Tulipa species with coarse fat foliage, preferring instead those that 
are less "tulip-like", with smaller concise herbage, fascinatingly undulate 
basal leaves, or fine linear strands of gray or green vegetation.

Tulipa photo gallery:
To see photographs of dwarf Tulipa, you can click on the link below to view a 
photo gallery assembled in support of this topic of the week.  There are also 
links to nurseries that sell most or all of the species I've showcased here.


...or go to http://www.plantbuzz.com/
and click on the Dwarf Tulipa link.

At the end of this message are more links to Tulipa images, as well a few 
bibliographic citations and bulb sources.

Tulipa Taxonomy
Tulipa taxonomy exists in a rather confused state; not surprising given the 
large number of species, possibly numbering as high as 150. The species are 
mostly found in central Asia, but are also found in Europe to China. The most 
significant treatment, "The Genus Tulipa" by A. D. Hall in 1940, is considered 
outdated and in need of a revision.  There are smaller regional works and other 
scientific studies that piecemeal the genus together. Researching a variety of 
web sites, botanical publications, and taxonomic references, the Tulipa names 
I've used in this message represent a consensus of recent taxonomic opinion 
as best I can determine. Of course, there's lots of room for dissenting opinion 

I gravitate towards web sites like http://www.hoogdix.com/ because their 
descriptive listing of Tulipa species and cultivars is among the most thorough 
around; a reference in itself.  Since this company, along with Van Tubergen, were 
directly responsible for the introduction of many Tulipa species and 
cultivars, the brief historical anecdotes on each variety offers more insight than what 
can be found elsewhere.  

Some Tulipa species & cultivars I grow:
1.  Tulipa polychroma
Thinking about Tulipa, one conjures up visions of blazing red and
yellow tones, possibly too brash for those who like more subdued
hues. So I start at the opposite end of the spectrum with my
favorite; T. polychroma, a refined miniature just 2 - 3" (5 - 7.5 cm)
tall in bloom, with white star-cups, clean as snow inside but with
yolk-yellow centers, the exterior of the blooms serenely touched with
pale gray-olive and a hint of rose. The foliage is light gray, narrow
and channeled.  The early blooms (in March) are deliciously scented,
luring me to lie on the muddy ground to take in the perfume.  This
species, in the Biflores section of Tulipa, has two to several
flowers per stem.

2.  Tulipa 'Little Princess'
This is a hybrid between T. hageri and T. aucheriana.  Both of those
species has been in question, but remain as valid species in the most
recent taxonomic positions I found references for.  A stunning
miniature tulip that has universal appeal.  The flowers are full and
open, greeting the sun, a fascinating coppery orange color with an
abrupt ring of yellow encircling a brooding center of dark
black-green.  The anthers are very large, black, and conspicuously
ornamental.  The outside of the blooms show lighter melon colors.
The lightly fragrant flowers age to Chinese red in about two weeks
after first opening.  Only 3 - 5" tall (7.5 - 12.5 cm) in flower,
later elongating a couple more inches.

3.  Tulipa tarda
A bright species that'll increase and come back year after year to
produce quantities of cheerful little yellow, white-tipped flowers.
The photos in my Tulipa gallery show a planting now well over 10
years old, but still making a grand show each spring.  The egg-hued
blooms only open in full sun, have a light fragrance, and are
olive-backed when the flowers are closed tight under low-light
conditions.  Up to 8 flowers per 5" stem and are olive-backed when
the flowers are closed tight under low-light conditions.  Up to 8
flowers per 5" stem are produced, accounting for it's floriferous
habit.  Tulipa biflora, turkestanica, and the aforementioned T.
polychroma, are all in the same Biflores Section, each species
recognized as valid.

4.  Tulipa batalinii
This species seems an enigma, but I'm not sure why.  It's the opinion
of some, this is really a yellow color form of red-flowered T.
linifolia.  They say, it's in the "linifolia - Batalinii group",
whatever that means taxonomically.  There are indeed similarities,
but lumping these together as a single entity doesn't seem an obvious
conclusion.  Checking recent taxonomic opinion to ascertain
consensus, it appears that T. batalinii and T. linifolia are two
distinct species, both members of the closely allied Clusianae
Section of Tulipa.

T. batalinii has been in cultivation for a long time, as has T.
linifolia.  The beautiful cultivar known as T. batalinii 'Bronze
Charm' is said to be a hybrid between the two species, first
introduced by the Holland bulb firm of Van Tubergen, responsible for
introducing a number of Tulipa species and cultivars.  Photographs of
batalinii 'Bronze Charm' and linifolia are found on my photo gallery
prepared for this ATOW.

Some observations between the two species (from plants I've grown)
-  batalinii has linear, acuminate, undulate foliage.
-  linifolia  has linear, nearly lorate, foliage, that can be undulate

-  batalinii has urceolate (lily shaped) flowers
-  linifolia  has flowers that open flat

-  batalinii has full flowers, but not rotate

-  linifolia  has full flowers that are rotate

-  batalinii has pale yellow to medium yellow flowers
-  linifolia  has shining, intense red flowers

-  batalinii has 3 distinct inner petals, and 3 differently shaped
   outer petals.
-  linifolia  has all 6 petals ~ uniformly shaped and sized

-  batalinii does not have a distinct central eye
-  linifolia has a distinct jet-black central eye

Personally I find the two species instantly recognizable and distinct, yet 
some schools of thought put these two entities together as synonyms.

5.  Tulipa bakeri 'Lilac Wonder'
Pretty lilac-pink flowers and yolk-yellow centers, in small but
substantial classic cup-shaped blooms.  The foliage is too chubby for
my taste, visually detracting from this medium-sized "dwarf" tulip.
When buying Holland-grown bulbs in nursery center bulb bins each
autumn, it seems this Tulipa is a frequent usurper of other species,
the bulbs oftentimes mixed in with other varieties.

6.  Tulipa humilis
The name can represent a whole cluster of species, depending on one's
viewpoint, in the Saxatiles Section of the genus.  It has the same
coloring as T. bakeri, typically a nice bright pink with a prominent
yellow center.  This species is dwarfer than bakeri, growing 4 - 6"
(10 - 15 cm) tall, with upright starry flowers.  The leaves are more
refined, being small, linear, and grayish.  According to some
authors, T. humilis subsumes such species as aucheriana, pulchella,
and violacea, but recent botanical works have recognized each as
valid species.  Bulbs of T. humilis and many of it's varieties are
often available inexpensively.

6a.  Tulipa humilis 'Albo Coerulea Oculata' 
      (correctly T. violacea  var. pallida)
It is here among the variable humilis group of allied species, that
we have the famous T. humilis 'Albo Coerulea Oculata', a gorgeous
thing with open, starry white flowers sporting steel blue centers.
It's "to die for". About 3 - 4" in bloom (7.5 - 10 cm). This plant is
found under a bewildering array of synonyms and variant names. To the
best of my knowledge, it is correctly identified as Tulipa violacea
var. pallida.  But also look for it as T. pulchella albocoerulea
oculata, T. pulchella caerulea, T. humilis alba caerulea, and many
other name permutations!  The bulbs, when obtainable, cost about $5 -
$8 U.S. each!  Check the links posted on my Dwarf Tulipa gallery for
a couple bulb sources for this beauty.  Splurge and get 5-6 bulbs;
it's worth the investment.  Some photo links are listed below.

7.  Tulipa stellata ssp. chrysantha
Inexpensively available where better selections of Holland bulbs are
sold, this brilliant species is usually labeled simply as T.
chrysantha.  It's also been considered a variety of T. clusiana, and
listed as T. clusiana var. chrysantha, sometimes offered for sale
under that name.  It's a charming dwarf species with neat basal
foliage that is small, narrow and trim, with tightly held buds which
in low light show the cinnabar red backs of the petals,
metamorphosing into surprisingly large, flat, starry blooms of pure
yellow after a couple hours of strong sunshine.  It pairs nicely with
the electric red T. linifolia.  Both this species and T. linifolia
are in the Clusianae section of Tulipa.

8.  Tulipa linifolia
I particularly like the fullness of the blooms on this
species, rendering a nearly circular or rotate flower profile when
fully opened on warm sunny days.  The broad petals reflex backwards,
abruptly contracted into a fine point, giving a most distinctive
appearance.  The flowers, on 4 - 5" (10 - 12.5 cm) stems, have a
satiny, light-reflective sheen, and a jet black center to each
flower.  Flowers in April the same time as T. stellata ssp.

Tulipa species & cultivars I want to grow:
There are a large number of desirable dwarf tulipa for the rock
garden. It would be tedious to list them all, but here are some that
are on my mind:

a.  T. celsiana - low or prostrate glossy green leaves, and lots of
starry yellow flowers, stained red on the outside.  The Van Tubergen
link below has a good color photo. 10 - 15 cm.

b.  T. clusiana cultivars - this species is the namesake for the
Clusianae section of Tulipa, famous as the 'Lady Tulip'.  All
varieties are charming, the basic theme being white, cream,
yellow, or pinkish flowers, strongly banded with crimson on the
exterior.  Most varieties grow 8 - 12" (20 - 30 cm).

c.  T. dasystemon - the true plant is hard to come by.  This species,
allied to T. tarda, is usually misidentified in cultivation and
usurped by T. tarda itself.  The true species has blue-green leaves
and bright yellow flowers, without the white tips as in T. tarda.
About 4" tall (10  cm).

d. T. kurdica - here you have an extremely dwarf species, with very
narrow straps of foliage and nearly stemless cranberry red flowers
sitting nearly stemless.

e.  T. 'Little Beauty' - a great looking miniature with small, moody,
red-purplish-tinted cups. Only 4" (10 cm) tall. There is a very good
photo of on the Van Tubegen web site... see link below.

f.  T. montana (syn. T. wilsoniana) - a small refined species with
show-stopping chalice-shaped red-orange flowers on mere 4" - 6" stems
(10 - 15 cm).

g.   T. schrenkii - growing 3" - 4" tall (7.5 - 10 cm), with scarlet
flowers and an orange margin.

h.  T. sylvestris - stoloniferously increasing species with
semi-nodding starry flowers of golden yellow, tinged greenish on the
exterior.  Said to be strongly fragrant.  Looks to be a delightful
species; see the Van Tubergen link below.

i.  T. turkestanica - (syn. bifloriformis Vved.) - The photo on the
Van Tubergen web site (see link below) shows a most graceful and
desirable species, with cream-white flowers with yellow-orange
centers.  The reflexed and nodding flowers have a strong resemblance
to an Erythronium species.  Grows 8 - 12" (20 - 30 cm).

j.  T. vvedenskyi - There are several named forms of this species.
Has the appearance of a "classic tulip" in form, but smaller, and
growing 8" - 12" tall (20 - 30 cm) with bright orange and yellow

I'm only just getting started with Tulipa species.  Please share with us your 
favorites.  Are Tulipa species short-lived in your experience, as the books 
say, or are they more permanent than generally credited?  Know of any good 
taxonomic references for the genus?


Selected Dwarf Tulipa - Internet links.
(in no particular order)

Van Tubergen Bulb company
(Good images of such species as T. celsiana, turkestanica, 'Little
Beauty', "clusiana chrysantha", sylvestris, and others)

Click on: descriptive catalog > click on Tulipa
(large and informative listing of Tulipa species and cultivars)

Paul Christian


The National Tulip Collection  at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden

Tulipa "bifloriformis"  ( = turkestanica)

Pacific Rim native Plant Nursery

Odyssey Bulbs

John Lonsdale's Edgewood Gardens
John Lonsdale has some very good images of selected Tulipa species.

Tulipa kurdica - a very dwarf red-flowered species

Tulipa humilis alba caerulea  (= T. violacea var. pallida)
Good close-up photograph by: Cliff Booker Posted: 26.04.03, 23:46:52

Beautiful view of Tulipa humilis 'Alba Caerulea Oculata'  
( = T. violacea var. pallida)
Pacific Rim Native Plant Nursery

Small thumbnail sized images of Tulipa species and other bulbs available at:

The Reticulata Iris guy, Alan McMurtrie, Ontario CA, has some nice
Tulipa photos:

article on tulipa species

tulipa gallery (in German, but some nice photos)

Nursery source:
Fraser's Thimble Farms, BC Canada

Dwarf Bulbs, by Brian Mathew, 1973 - contains a brief but most useful
enumeration of species.  There are several other excellent books by
Brian Mathew covering Tulipa.

The Random House of Bulbs, by Roger Phillips & Martyn Rix, 1989 - an
indispensable photographic guide to bulbs of all sorts, but of
course, a good selection of Tulipa.

Czechoslovakian Tulipa species study
- includes a few pages in English and botanical latin names;
representing a recent partial taxonomic summary of species, synonyms,
and Sections of related species.  The link is to a PDF file.

Last but not least, here are some links to the Pacific Bulb Society and their 
Tulipa section.  The PBS, our February topic-of-the-week companion, has 
amassed an extensive photo library of bulbs that is surely one of the best on the 
web. The activities of the PBS group is directed by the indefatigable Mary Sue 
Ittner, a bulb aficionado par excellence.  The first link is to the PBS 
homepage, the second link to an alphabetical table of bulb genera in the photo 
library, and the third link is to the Tulipa page, where there are some great 
Tulipa photos.

Mark McDonough Pepperell, Massachusetts, United States
antennaria@aol.com "New England" USDA Zone 5
>>  web site under construction - http://www.plantbuzz.com/ <

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