Tulips may be as Dutch as windmills, but the flower is not actually native to Holland. Most tulips originated in the rugged mountains and steppes of Central Asia, the Mideast and China. Designed by nature to endure poor soil, hot dry summers and frigid winters, wild or species tulips are a special combination of toughness and charm.
In the home garden, these shorter tougher tulips introduce a wildflower look to sunny spots where other plants might not thrive, including rocky areas, along sidewalks and drives, at woodland edges and even in gravel – as long as the site has good drainage.
Following are wild or near-wild tulips from Holland to plant this fall suggested by Christian Curless, horticulturist at Colorblends, a Connecticut-based flower bulb wholesaler that sells direct to landscape professionals and home gardeners across the country. All are suited to growing in USDA Zones 3-7 (pre-chill 7b-10) and available from Colorblends.com, 1-888-847-8637.
Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’ – Its lilac-pink flowers with deep yellow centers bob daintily in soft spring breezes, weathering hard rains and wind with equal aplomb. Details: eight-inches tall, blooms mid-spring, native to Crete.
Tulipa batalini ‘Bright Gem’ – The flower is a warm yellow-butterscotch color that gains glints of bronze over time. Late to come up in spring, this short sturdy tulip shines in more barren settings. Details: six-inches tall, blooms late spring, the species is native to the Pamir-Alay Mountains of Central Asia.
Tulipa clusiana ‘Tubergen’s Gem’ – The flower petals are pure yellow, stroked with crimson on the outside. When warmed by the sun, the flowers open wide in bright golden star-shapes. Details: six-inches tall, blooms mid-spring, native to Afghanistan and Tibet.
Tulipa humilis 'Violacea' – The vivid violet-red flowers bloom close to the ground, their perfect oval shapes reminiscent of tiny colorful Easter eggs. Details: six-inches tall, blooms early spring, native to Iran and Turkey.
Tulipa linifolia – In the sun, its shiny scarlet flowers open wide, nearly flat, creating a starburst of reddest-red centered on a jet black heart. Details: eight-inches tall, blooms late spring, native to Central Asia.
Tulipa praestans ‘Shogun’ – A multi-flowering tulip with red-flecked pumpkin-colored flowers that open wide in the sun to display blue-black stamens at the heart. Details: 12-inches tall, blooms early mid-spring, the species is native to the Gissar Mountains of Tajikistan.
Tulipa ‘Little Princess’ – A tiny tulip with orange flowers brushed with flecks of deeper orange and red. Inside, a blue-black heart edged in yellow anchors the six pointed orange petals. Details: four-inches tall, blooms mid-late spring, a Dutch hybrid of two wild tulips: Tulipa hageri (native to Crete) and T. aucheriana (native to Iran).
Tulipa tarda – A multi-flowering tulip with bright yellow star-shaped flowers, edged in white. It is a stellar perennializer when planted in full sun in well-drained soil. Details: five-inches tall, blooms mid-spring, native to the Tien Shan Mountains bordering Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and China.
Tulipa turkestanica – A multi-flowering tulip that produces four to eight small white flowers per stem. This golden-eyed wildflower is particularly appealing in mass plantings where its sweet fragrance can be enjoyed. Details: eight- inches tall, blooms early mid-spring, native to Turkestan.