Wednesday, April 07, 2010

April: Tulips

Hybrid tulips can be such a letdown. In their first year they are a stunning explosion of shapes and colors; the next year, only a few come up, and they're smaller and less brightly colored. I vow never to fall for them again, favoring more reliable perennial bulbs like daffodils and crocuses, but then the fall bulb sales arrive and I find myself getting suckered. It's especially strange because I don't even like hybrid tulip flowers that much. I am a victim of marketing, I confess.
Hybrid tulips in my garden, last May

However, species tulips are consistently wonderful! I don't know what accident led me to planting them years ago, before I knew the first thing about tulips, but the four clumps in my garage garden bloom and multiply reliably year after year and make me look like a tulip expert. The buds stay tightly closed at night and on cloudy days, but when touched by the sun they pop open in a star shape to display their pretty black markings. There are several species of tulip; I'm not sure what mine are but Tulipa praestans is a possibility.
Species tulips (article from Flower and Garden Magazine, Oct. 1993) are descended from the wild tulips of the Mediterranean and Asia. They tend to be smaller and earlier-flowering than the more familiar hybrids, and they naturalize well. Non-species tulips are a good example of the downside of artificial selection; selecting for traits like rounded bud shape or exotic color or height can lead to negative consequences for other traits like longevity. Not to mention the downsides of hybridization, including sterility and hybrid depression (though hybrid vigor is also possible, or some parts of the genome can be depressed while others are vigorous!). I find my little species tulips much cuter than hybrids, and I love them for sticking around for so many years. Last fall I ordered more from American Meadows and planted them in the front garden. They are not as far along but I have high hopes for them; they should be blooming in a few days.


Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I think my mom has those same tulips & they've been in her garden for over 20 years, so chances are good they'll keep doing their thing for you for a long time. I love the shape of them with the pointed tips.

Eva said...

Really wonderful pictures. I'm learning to love tulips, and I may have to investigate the species tulips some more.