Dwarf Tulipa-PBS and Alpine Topic of the Week

James Waddick jwaddick@kc.rr.com
Thu, 19 Feb 2004 22:25:47 PST
Mark McDonough:         The well known super-hero, "The Onion Man" (aka 
Mark McDonough), has had a lingering interest in smaller tulip species. 
Allium and an astounding "Allium Central" are featured on his 
well-worth-the-visit-website (http://www.plantbuzz.com/). The site shows 
much more and suggests his wide knowledge. This introduction should 
intensify the bulb wishes of February topics.

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 

...or go to <http://www.plantbuzz.com/>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 
ogdix.com/>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 
-  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. 
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 

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 

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 flowers.

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 

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.

Mark McDonough Pepperell, Massachusetts, United States
antennaria@aol.com "New England" USDA Zone 5
 >> web site under construction - http://www.plantbuzz.com/ <<
alliums, bulbs, penstemons, hardy hibiscus, western
american alpines, iris, plants of all types!
+ dwarf Tulipa!

Note from Mary Sue: Our wiki wasn't mentioned, but it has some nice 
pictures too:

Dr. James W. Waddick
8871 NW Brostrom Rd.
Kansas City Missouri 64152-2711
Ph.    816-746-1949
E-fax  419-781-8594

Zone 5 Record low -23F
         Summer 100F +

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