Tulipa saxitilis

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@starpower.net
Thu, 15 Sep 2005 18:09:40 PDT
Jane McGary, in mentioning " that some 
authorities believe they [Tulipa saxatilis and T. bakeri] should be regarded
as a single species" has anticipated a comment which I have been preparing.

If they are considered to be a single species, and especially if the name
chosen for that species is to be Tulipa saxatilis, we should not lose track
of the circumstance that the plants in cultivation now and known
respectively as Tulipa saxatilis and T. bakeri 'Lilac Wonder' are, from a
horticultural perspective, different plants.

The plant traditionally known as Tulipa saxatilis is evidently triploid and
almost certainly a clone. In other words, nowhere in the world is there a
sexually reproducing population of Tulipa saxatilis. To put it differently,
you cannot raise Tulipa saxatilis from seed fertilized by another triploid
Tulipa saxatilis. 

I was about to write that you cannot raise Tulipa saxatilis from seed. But
you presumably can get Tulipa saxatilis to set viable seed by pollinating it
with tetraploid pollen, but the resulting seedlings will not be Tulipa
saxatilis. The only exception to this would occur if one were somehow able
to convert triploid Tulipa saxatilis to a tetraploid, and then do the cross:
in that case, all of the genetic material involved would have come from
Tulipa saxatilis. There is no reason to believe that is happening in the
wild, or that it has ever happened.  

Some of you may wonder why anyone would care about this. Here is one reason:
the history of horticulture if full of situations where an original named
clone has been supplanted by similar non-clonal material. Unfortunately, the
rules of nomenclature sometimes abet this problem. Here's an example:

At the end of the nineteenth century, when it was fashionable for amateur
hybridizers to give their hybrids Latin names 
(that practice is now a no-no), Commander Baden-Powell (he of Boy Scout
fame) raised a hybrid martagon lily which he named Lilium dalhansonii
(because it was a cross of the lily then known as Lilium martagon dalmaticum
and Lilium hansonii). For purposes of this discussion, let's assume that the
original Lilium dalhansonii was a clone.

According to the modern interpretation of the rules of nomenclature, this
name Lilium x dalhansonii is the legitimate name for all hybrids of Lilium
martagon cattaniae (one current nomenclatural take on the old name Lilium
martagon dalmaticum)  and Lilium hansonii. 

So when you hear the term "Lilium dalhansonii", to what does it refer? Does
it refer to the original, presumably clonal plant raised by Baden-Powell? Or
does it refer to a subsequent hybrid of similar ancestry (and incidentally
which may not look anything like the original)? 

There is the added complication that others repeated Baden-Powell's cross
and got similar plants. These similar plants got into commerce under the
name Lilium dalhansonii. 

Can anyone say with certainty which of these plants is the one originally
raised by Baden-Powell? Can it be said with certainty that his plant even

I don't think so. 

Jim McKenney 
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where the name suggests that
Tulipa saxatilis should be a good rock garden plant; does the name Tulipa
bakeri mean that that tulip would be good roasted - no, no, that's probably
Amana edulis. 


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