Tulips origin

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@jimmckenney.com
Thu, 25 Oct 2007 06:34:02 PDT
Ben Zonnenveld asked about the origin of garden tulips, in particular if
they originate from one species. 

I can't give an expert opinion, but I can give some carefully considered

When sixteenth-century Europeans became aware of tulips, the tulips they
knew were evidently garden tulips, not wild tulips. The primary
hybridizations (i.e. the species x species crosses) which led to garden
tulips were presumably done in Turkey and may well have been inadvertent.

When modern taxonomy was developed, a name was needed for tulips, and the
name Tulipa gesneriana was widely used for them. But even in the old days,
long before anyone had an inkling of twentieth century taxonomic concepts
such as population genetics, this name was widely regarded as an artifice. A
category was needed,   and the category had to have a name. I don't think
there has ever been doubt that this "Tulipa gesneriana" was a polyphyletic

The late nineteenth century and early twentieth century tulip experts also
understood the significance of the so-called Neotulipae, and did not point
to them as the source of garden tulips. 

I've often wondered if the old (reputedly eighteenth century) hybrid
'Keizerskroon' has Tulipa kaufmanniana or a related species somewhere in its
background.  The flower does not look like that of a typical kaufmanniana
hybrid, but there is something about the bulb, the foliage and the general
vigor under our conditions which makes me wonder. 

While we are on the topic of old garden tulips, is there a consensus on just
what Clusius introduced to the Netherlands: were they bulbs or seeds? 

Please keep us posted on what your research turns up about garden tulips,

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7 where it's been raining
finally - just in time to soak the first flush of autumn crocus.
My Virtual Maryland Garden http://www.jimmckenney.com/
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