Weedy Tulips - T. clusiana

Jim McKenney jamesamckenney@verizon.net
Sun, 29 Mar 2015 11:06:51 PDT
If you have come to tulips only within the last ten or twenty  years or so, what follows might help you to put the name Tulipa clusiana into context. In short, the botanical name Tulipa clusiana does not mean the same thing now that it meant as recently as twenty or thirty years ago.
Jim Waddick's plaint about the lack of a stoloniferous nature in his Tulipa clusiana is probably explained by his plants not being the Tulipa clusiana of the pre-twenty-first century literature. 
From the time of Clusius in the late sixteenth century until late in the twentieth century, the plant which acquired the botanical name Tulipa clusiana was one of the most widely grown and loved small tulips. It was well known for being stoloniferous and for rarely setting seed (it was eventually discovered to be a pentaploid). Even in the early twentieth century, when very few wild or species tulips were listed in catalogs, it was offered. 
Sometime in the late twentieth century this plant began to disappear from catalogs - or perhaps a better way of saying that is that although the name persisted in catalogs, the plant sent out under that name was a look-alike something else. At the same time, revisions in the taxonomy of tulips began to associate formerly disparate names with the name Tulipa clusiana. For instance, the tulip long known and grown as Tulipa stellata   came to be listed as a Tulipa clusiana variant.  And Tulipa stellata chrysantha (which has yellow and red flowers) also became a Tulipa clusiana variant.  This, by the way, is a very stoloniferous tulip and should be tried by those who want that quality. It's currently sold under the name Tulipa clusiana chrysantha. If you are researching it in older books, look for Tulipa chrysantha or Tulipa stellata chrysantha. Keep in mind that the true, original clone of Tulipa clusiana of gardens is not a true species in the modern sense (i.e. it is unknown in the wild as a sexually reproducing population). However, it is obviously very closely related to and presumably derived from one of the other tulips which modern taxonomists include under the name Tulipa clusiana in the contemporary sense (a likely candidate for the source of the pentaploid original clone of Tulipa clusiana is the plant once known as Tulipa stellata but not the form known as T. stellata chrysantha).  And as the earliest named of these tulips, its name becomes the name for the entire group (the species name for the entire group) in terms of modern botanical nomenclature. 
Modern look-alike clones include 'Peppermint Stick' and  'Lady Jane'; similar to these but distinguished by pale yellow (instead of white) inner petals is 'Cynthia'. I've grown all of these (if the names of my supplier can be believed) and have not noticed any of them to be noticeably stoloniferous. They do persist well under my conditions. 
The true, original clone of Tulipa clusiana of gardens has a distinctive growth habit: it forms flat rosettes of short gray-green leaves with a red edge; these leaves lie flat on the ground when they appear and (but don't hold me to the timing of this part) go through the winter in that state. When the stems elongate in the spring, they take some of the leaves with them.  If you're in an old garden in late winter and see such flat rosettes about four inches in diameter, you might have stumbled on the true, original clone of Tulipa clusiana. My very few plants were acquired when a friend was showing me around her old garden, and I spotted the leaf rosettes: luckily for me she let me dig a few. 
Jim McKenneyMontgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where we had a nasty drop into the 20s last night and this morning: after that, even the snowdrops look drunk. 

pbs mailing list

More information about the pbs mailing list