Tulipa sprengeri

totototo@telus.net totototo@telus.net
Sat, 16 May 2009 10:47:12 PDT
On 16 May 2009, at 8:13, James Waddick wrote:

>  Yesterday the first flower opened on Tulipa sprengeri. It is 
> by far the last tulip to bloom here. I anticipate its bloom each year.

That makes two of us.

I've been growing it for about 20 years. Yes, it self-sows with reasonable 
freedom _in_ _the_ _garden_ but not under wild-ish conditions. My house is at 
the end of a long (300') lane that is rather wild, and over the years I've 
tried to introduce various ornamentals there. Very few have established. Along 
the line of my water line, which was backfilled with pit run gravel (i.e. sand 
and gravel mixed), there is some Tulipa sprengeri, but it neither flowers 
freely nor sets seed well, perhaps because of a lack of light from trees 
overhead, perhaps from the lean soil they grow in, perhaps from root 
competition with the trees.

In 1997 on a visit to Saltspring Island, I took along a huge quantity of T.s. 
seed and spent an afternoon sprinkling it here and there along the rough 
roadsides. To my knowledge, no T.s. blooms on Saltspring Island. I cannot say, 
however, if this is because the seed was eaten by critters, or the flower buds 
form but are eaten by deer. Whichever, it's clearly not easy to establish 
outside the garden by scattering seed.

I believe the bulbs do, in fact, multiply if they are growing well. I 
definitely have clumps of T.s. here and there.  

It is a common plant as seed, uncommon as a bulb. Christine Skelmersdale wrote 
a squib on the Broadleigh nursery for a commemorative issue of either the AGS 
or SRGC bulletin, and remarked how difficult it is to find the bulbs when 
customers order them. They burrow down very deeply in their special bed, and 
aren't very large. I wondered at the time if fly screen would suffice to keep 
them from burrowing more deeply.

When the AGS got its seed exchange going around 1950, E. B. Anderson, who ran 
the exchange in its first years specifically said "no Tulipa sprengeri" in his 
advice to donors. It was considered too common and weedy, I suppose. But otoh, 
EBA was an expert bulb grower so his perspective was a tad biased. It's a plant 
I wouldn't want to be without and I don't mind that it's gradually turning up 
here and there in my garden.  

I have a bulb or two of purported 'Trotter's Form' from exchange seed, but I 
see no difference between it and what usually develops. I am not even sure what 
the difference is supposed to be.

I suspect, Jim, that your difficulty with T.s. is (as so often the case) due to 
climate. Our climate here, with its wet winters, bone dry summers, moderate 
temperatures, and very few humid days is ideal for many Mediterranean bulbs, 
hence T.s. does very well.

It may also be significant that our soils are naturally rather poor due to 
leaching of soluble nutrients by heavy winter rains. They are quite deficient 
in nitrogen, magnesium, and calcium in particular.

EBA used a strategy for growing summer-dry bulbs in the damp climates he 
gardened in: he planted them among the roots of deciduous trees and shrubs. The 
bulbs completed their growth cycle and were fading by the time the deciduous 
material overhead started to leaf out and pump moisture from the soil 
underneath. As long as T.s. gets adequate sun during its spring growth period, 
it doesn't matter if it's shaded during the summer.

Rodger Whitlock
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Maritime Zone 8, a cool Mediterranean climate
on beautiful Vancouver Island


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