Tulipa time

Jane McGary janemcgary@earthlink.net
Mon, 23 Mar 2020 12:50:44 PDT
The recent Bulb Garden issue features raising bulbs from seed, and the 
genus Tulipa is a good incentive for that. Tulips are in the early part 
of their flowering period here in western Oregon. I haven't any 
purchased bulbs in the garden because I wanted to keep my species 
collection as virus-free as possible -- though that may be difficult in 
a residential neighborhood. The older tulips here are mostly from 
Archibald seed collections, particularly their collections from western 
Iran. More recently Kurt Vickery has sent out a wonderful range of 
Tulipa species collected by himself and some colleagues in Turkey and 
Central Asia. Some species have taken as much as seven years from sowing 
to flowering, but most flower in the third or fourth year. Seeds sown in 
fall generally germinate the first winter, but this year a number of 
species haven't germinated, and may wait another annual cycle; I have no 
idea why they're behaving differently under the same conditions. On the 
other hand, a species sent me in January 2020 is already germinating.

The very first to open here is the unique Tulipa regelii (an Archibald 
collection) with its crested leaves; the flowers are starry white, 
yellow-centered, and not very striking. It has set good seed the past 
two years with hand pollination, but I left it alone this year, thinking 
it might like to save its energy, something like letting a prize 
broodmare have a year's barren rest. There are 5 clones here, so their 
offspring should form a good population. Don't write asking me for it 
yet, please.

The Iranian Archibald expedition turned up plenty of tulip seed, not all 
of which could be identified from dry capsules. They offered half a 
dozen numbered packets at a special price. From these I have (I think) 
three different species. The most vigorous one is almost certainly 
Tulipa montana, increasing well and producing many small flowers of the 
purest red. The other two are both red, with larger flowers and 
different foliage. I'll try T. montana outdoors in a raised bed, or 
perhaps on the rock garden -- it is really a bit too leafy for the 
latter, but it would look very pretty and natural this time of year.

Two Vickery collections are flowering close together, and both are 
unusual and delightful. Tulipa lemmersii, a species described in 2009, 
is a small one with perfectly formed cup-shaped flowers of light clear 
yellow. The other has been known as Tulipa rosea but is more properly a 
color form of Tulipa korolkowii, from eastern Tajikistan. Its pink color 
is strong and nearly pure, but with a faint hint of orange on some parts 
of the tepals, and it has attractive undulate, gray-green leaves.

I made a raised bed in the open especially for tulips that increased and 
matured well enough to risk experimenting, and so far it's successful. 
Here is Tulipa rhodopea (a member of the T. hungarica complex), an 
Archibald collection from Bulgaria, with lovely large, rose-red flowers. 
A Vickery collection send as "aff. florenskyi" is also quite happy, one 
of the many big, bright red ones. I put some small seedling bulbs of 
Tulipa greigii on a rock garden last summer, but they've been sadly 
chewed by slugs -- too much dense cover near them, probably.

I don't like to put tall, late-flowering bulbs into my bulb lawn because 
it's best to have it ready to be mown in June, but maybe a few tulips 
would work there. Some of them grow on rocky places, but others compete 
successfully with tall grasses and herbs.

A very good book on the subject is Diana Everett, The genus Tulipa: 
Tulips of the world (Kew, 2013), with the author's helpfully detailed 
paintings that show the details of style, anthers, and so on as well as 
artistic depictions of the whole plant; there are also photos, some in 
nature.

Jane McGary, Portland, Oregon, USA

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