The tulip is one of the iconic signs of spring. Most gardeners are familiar with hybrid types, but for a tulip with a longer bloom time, try a species tulip. The species tulip is the predecessor of the modern tulip. It is a perennial and multiplies easily, which is fairly rare with a garden tulip.
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Available in every color but the truest of blues, species tulips also offer a variety of petal types. You can tiptoe through the options and find many striking looks, including those that have contrasting colored centers when fully open. Most species tulips act like lily-type tulips, only fully opening on sunny days. At night, and on overcast days, the blooms stay closed.
Species Tulips Care Must-Knows
Originating in rocky, mountainous terrain, species tulips are made to deal with droughts and won't tolerate wet soils. This makes them a great addition to dry areas like rock gardens or trough gardens. Many species tulips prefer dry conditions when they are dormant, so plant them in places where you won't be doing much supplemental watering.
Species tulips prefer full sun. When planting your tulips in the fall, a general rule of thumb is to plant all bulbs about 2-3 times as deep as the bulb is tall. So if a bulb is 2 inches tall, plant it 4–6 inches deep.
The foliage of species tulips is smaller and less obtrusive than modern tulip varieties. Once blooming is finished, leave the foliage until it has yellowed and begins to dry. Cut back the spent foliage and any seedpods as well. (Seeds of tulips can take 5 to 7 years to bloom, so it is best to remove them so the plant focuses on storing energy for next year's flowers.) That's the only maintenance required. If left to their own devices, these garden gems will happily proliferate and multiply over the years. If you want to make more, you can divide them in the fall, but this can slow them down as they don't like to be disturbed.
Tulips in Containers
Species tulips can be grown in containers. Simply plant them in a pot as you would in the ground, using a well-drained, gritty potting mix. Once the plants have gone dormant, stop watering to allow them to properly dry out. Store the pots in a cool dry area, such as an unheated garage or a cool root cellar until next spring. Or, bury the pots in the ground just before winter. In spring, pull the pot up and place it where the small blooms can be enjoyed.
More Varieties of Tulip, Species
Tulipa clusiana has attractive red-and-white striped petals on blue-gray foliage that combines particularly well with silver foliage plants. It blooms in midspring on stems 810 inches tall. Zones 3-8
Tulipa praestans produces a cluster of reddish orange flowers with yellow throats that forms a small bouquet on the plant. This early-blooming cultivar grows to 10 inches tall. Zones 3-8
Tulipa vvedenskyi is new for 2009. This orange-red variety is an early to midspring bloomer on stems 6-10 inches tall. The blue-green leaves have crimped, wavy edges. It makes a great addition to patio planters or as a focal point in the front of a border. Zones 3-8
Tulipa clusiana is sometimes called lady tulip or candlestick tulip. It's a low-growing variety, reaching only 8 inches tall. Its blooms are all yellow on the inside, but blushed with peach on the outer petals. Zones 3-8
Tulipa bakeri has small lilac-pink blooms that reveal glowing gold centers as they unfurl in midspring. It grows 6-8 inches tall. Zones 3-8
Tulipa humilis is an early-blooming variety with cardinal-red blooms and a violet base ringed in gold. The 4- to 6-inch tall flower stems often bear 3-4 blooms each. Foliage may be edged in red. It is native to Kurdistan. Zones 3-8
Tulipa clusiana is aptly named with its candy cane red-and-white striped, elongated blooms. Also known as lady tulip or candlestick tulip, it blooms in early midseason on stems 8-10 inches tall. It is a good naturalizer for rock gardens. Zones 3-8
Tulipa pulchella features dark red-violet flowers that open into star shapes around vibrant yellow centers. It blooms in early to midspring and grows 4-6 inches tall. Zones 4-8
Tulipa batalinii is intensely colored with rich tomato-red blooms that rise just above its blue-green foliage. It grows 10 inches tall. The species is native to Uzbekistan. Zones 3-8
Tulipa clusiana offers red and yellow flowers that light up the front of borders in mid-spring. It grows 8 to 10 inches tall. Zones 3-8
Tulipa clusiana bears scarlet buds that open to reveal eye-catching golden blooms. The effect is like flares burning in the garden. The plant grows 12 inches tall. Zones 3-8
Tulipa kolpakowskiana has yellow flower goblets streaked in crimson that appear in clusters of two or more above a crown of narrow, scalloped leaves. It grows 8 inches tall. Zones 3-8
Tulipa linifolia bears satiny red petals that open wide, resembling poppies with their black centers. The leaves have a thin red edge, adding to the beauty. It grows 1 foot tall. Zones 3-8
Tulipa sylvestris has long stems of nodding yellow blooms flushed with green on graceful stems. Stunning in mass. Zones 5-8
Tulipa tarda is a wild tulip native to central Asia. It unfolds starry pale yellow flowers with golden centers in midspring. It requires dry summer conditions to ripen and flourish and grows 1 foot tall. Zones 3-8
Tulipa praestans bears scarlet flowers that glow like cheery valentines above neat clusters of white-margined foliage. It grows 1 foot tall. Zones 3-8
Tulipa turkestanica bears six-petaled white stars with golden-orange centers that open above narrow leaves in early to midspring. This wild tulip grows 12 inches tall. Zones 3-8
Tulipa humilis is a naturally occurring color variant of the species from Kurdistan. It is also know as the crocus tulip for its resemblance to that popular spring flower. Violacea has magenta blooms with a black base inside. Red-edged foliage lies nearly flat on the ground, and flower stalks rise 4-6 inches tall. Zones 3-8