Tulips from the Tien Shan

David Victor davidxvictor@mailblocks.com
Sun, 01 Aug 2004 10:41:12 PDT
Dear all,

A brief note to inform everyone that I have just added to the WIKI some 20 
photos of wild tulips taken in the Tien Shan mountains in June this 
year.  You can find them all under:


The Tien Shan mountains, laying mainly between Kazakstan and Kirgistan, are 
the home of most of the wild species of Tulipa.  To the East, these 
mountains form an extension of the Siberian flora and are mainly igneous by 
nature.  To the West, the mountains form an extension of the Himalayan 
flora and are mainly limestone.  Not surprisingly, different tulip species 
grow on each side of this divide.  The photographs were all taken on the 
northern, that is the Kazak, side of the mountains.  Other species grow on 
the southern, Kirgiz, slopes.

Altogether six species are covered by the photos, two from the east (Tulipa 
dasystemon and heterophylla) and four from the west (T. dasystemonoides, 
greigii, kaufmanniana and turkestanica).  Most of these are very small 
plants, say two to three inches tall, and I have included a lens hood or a 
medium sized (just over 1 inch diameter) coin in a number of shots to show 
scale.  Many of them do not look very like the normal garden hybrids we are 
used to: some look closer to a daffodil, than a tulip!  Two fit our normal 
ideas more closely, T. greigii and kaufmanniana.

These tulips are snow melt plants and their flowering period follows the 
retreating snow up the mountain.  Many of the ones shown here are within 
feet of snow banks.  When we were there, at six thousand feet we could find 
almost ripe seed heads of T. greigii, whilst nearer to ten thousand we 
could find plants in flower.  The highest tulips that we saw were at some 
11,000 feet.  All of them were growing on rocky outcrops in short grass or 
in the valley bottom detritus, all places that are briefly wet, then 
followed by a long, dry, sunny summer.

The sheer numbers of them are something to be wondered at.  At a rough 
guess, over many large areas there were three or four to the square foot, 
so from a single viewpoint one could see literally thousands of tulips.  I 
have included one shot of a hillside covered with T. heterophylla.

T. dasystemon and T. dasystemonoides are extremely similar in appearance, 
the only difference being in their tunication.  Luckily they come from 
different ends of the mountains!  T. turkestanica comes in both yellow and 
white forms and I have included a photo which shows both growing together.

The most striking was T. greigii, with its large, scarlet upright cups, 
with the gold and black "eye" at its base.  Sadly, there were few of them 
as I imagine a hillside covered with them must be an amazing 
sight.  However, the prize whilst we were there was T. kaufmanniana, with 
its slim flowers, its main beauty to me, however, being its very great 
variability.  It varies from almost completely yellow to almost completely 
scarlet, with every possible variation in between.  A truly memorable plant.

Best regards,
David Victor 

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