How to Grow: Species Tulips

Learn about species tulips, including varieties and how to plant and grow them.

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Species Tulip, Tulip, Flower, Blossom, Bloom, PlantThese flowers were gathered in the wilds of Turkey by Ottoman sultans and were depicted on paintings, wall covering and in decorative arts throughout the 1500s. Later on hybrid versions of these blooms spurred a whole flower industry in Europe, including a market crash. But the species versions have gathered less attention.

I love species tulips. Not only for the variety of plant forms, leaf colors and dainty flowers, but mostly because they come back consistently each year in our garden. Unlike the hybrid tulips that have been bred more for flower pot culture and may only survive a few years in gardens unless pampered, the species tulips are tough plants. More than 80 different species grow on the arid hillsides in western and central Asia. The native lands where they grow should give you a clue to where to plant them in your garden. They like a dry summer, so don’t plant species tulips close to flowers or shrubs that you’ll be watering frequently. And they like full sun and well-drained soil.

If given the right conditions they not only thrive, but slowly spread over time. There are many species to choose from. I like the Clusiana types with their alternating red and white stripped petals that look like a candy cane. Praestans features bright orange or red colored flowers, while Tarda has white flowers with a yellow base. Species tulips are low growing and most have single petaled flowers. They look great in rock gardens, low perennial borders or tucked in front of shrubs. Unfortunately, deer like these as much as the hybrid tulips, so you’ll have to protect them in spring.

From the Vermont Garden Journal on Vermont Public Radio.

Go here for a video on planting bulbs.