Tulipa clusiana

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@jimmckenney.com
Sat, 18 Apr 2009 15:43:30 PDT
Tulipa clusiana was mentioned in a recent post. The name is potentially very
confusing. When I began growing bulbs over fifty years ago (GRUMPY OLD M AN
STORY ALERT) the name Tulipa clusiana meant something rather different than
it does today. Back then the name referred to a small red and white
pentaploid tulip which had probably been in cultivation for several
centuries; it might truly have been known to and grown by Clusius. This
tulip, which for horticultural purposes I still think of as simply Tulipa
clusiana, the original Tulipa clusiana, is evidently an ancient clone. It
spreads freely by stolons and is in several respects distinctive. In our
climate, the foliage emerges sometimes in late autumn and goes through the
winter as a four or five inch spidery rosette of gray-green leaves with a
thin red margin; this rosette is flat on the ground until the arrival of
clement weather. The small flowers are white with a red exterior blotch; on
the inside the bases of the tepals have a blue-purple blotch. This plant
still persists in old gardens, but it has not been available commercially
for a long time. 


By the end of the twentieth century the botanical concept of Tulipa clusiana
had changed: several species which in the past had been considered to be
distinct species were subsumed under Tulipa clusiana. For instance, as a
teenager I grew a tulip then called Tulipa stellata chrysantha; this is now
a member of the Tulipa clusiana complex, and is available commerecially as
Tulipa clusiana chrysantha. It has yellow flowers with a red blotch and is
vigorously stoloniferous. 


I’ve heard that because so many of the plants of this Tulipa clusiana
compels (in the modern sense) are stoloniferous, in the wild they often form
relatively uniform clonal aggregations. 


I don’t know why, but the original Tulipa clusiana began to disappear from
commerce long ago – maybe as much as forty years ago. In its place are
marketed several look-alikes. ‘Cynthia’, ‘Lady Jane’ and ‘Peppermint Stick’
are three I know about – perhaps there are others. ‘Cynthia’ is pale cream,
almost white, with a red blotch. ‘Lady Jane’ and ‘Peppermint Stick’ are
bright white with a red blotch and are a bit taller than ‘Cynthia’. 


‘Lady Jane’ is in bloom today and is a fine substitute for the original
Tulipa clusiana. It’s a big bigger both in flower and height and has good
garden impact.


In my experience, it has been hard to get these varieties true to name. 


I grow what I believe to be the old original Tulipa clusiana. It came from a
local garden where it has formed a broad mass; the only care it requires is
an occasional removal of taller plants which might shade it out. As I grow
it, it is smaller than the modern clusiana look-alikes.  


There are dealers who claim to be selling the “real thing” but so far I have
resisted that temptation. I recently had an email from someone who had
received on of the modern look-alikes from one such dealer, so caveat emptor


Jim McKenney


Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone

My Virtual Maryland Garden http://www.jimmckenney.com/

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