Species Tulips: A Walk on the Wild Side

Gardeners in the western world have been hybridizing tulips for about 400 years. The resulting flowers have been varied, luscious, and mostly beautiful. However, tulips started out as wildflowers that grew on mostly rocky terrain from Central Asia to the Balkans. These wildflowers, and their near kin, are grown today as species tulips.

Tulipa clusiana
Tulipa clusiana

This seems like a good day to write about species tulips. For one thing, their season is coming to a close. For another, I was inspired by a recent post on this subject by Annette on My Personal Eden.

While not as sumptuous as their highly bred cousins, species tulips are beautiful in their own right and have a number of advantages over the hybrids. For one thing, under the right conditions they usually live longer than the hybrids, and may even naturalize in your garden. For another, the bulbs are smaller and are easier to fit into the open spaces between perennials. The foliage, too, while often attractive, is not as heavy as the hybrids’ and will fade away less conspicuously.

In my garden I grow these species tulips:


Tulipa turkestanica
Tulipa turkestanica

Tulipa turkestanica. White tepals with a yellow base. A low growing early bloomer that spreads slowly and is long-lived.  Like many species tulips, the flowers open up almost flat in full sun and close in the evening.

Tulipa biflora
Tulipa biflora

Tulipa biflora. Flowers grow in threes with the same colors as above. However, the bloom is a cup shaped with a more delicate texture. Blooms in April. Has staying power but does not spread.

Tulipa tarda
Tulipa tarda

Lady tulips (Tulipa tarda). Yellow flowers edged with white. Blooms a little later than the tulips mentioned above. Spreads modestly.

tulip little t or p
Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’

Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’. Purple-red flowers with a white and blue center. Blooms in May. Lasts for several years but does not spread in my garden. Less than 6″ tall. Cute!

Tulipa 'Little Princess' (orange) with T. clusiana
Tulipa ‘Little Princess’ (orange) with T. clusiana

Tulipa ‘Little Princess’. Much like ‘Little Beauty’, but these are orange with a black and yellow center.

Tulipa clusiana
Tulipa clusiana

Tulipa clusiana. Red and yellow on the outside, yellow with a red center on the inside. Elegantly shaped, in my opinion.

Tulipa praestans 'Fusilier'
Tulipa praestans

Tulipa praestans. This is a heartbreaker, because the scarlet red flowers are the most beautiful of all the species tulips – but in my garden it is short-lived. Still worth planting, though. ‘Fusilier’ is probably the most common variety, ‘Unicom’ has variegated leaves.

Generally if you want to buy species tulips you will need to get them from a good quality mail order retailer. As a general rule, these tulips like sun, a cold winter, a hot summer, and decent drainage (but check the recommended USDA zones for each species).

Do you grow species tulips in your garden?

47 Comments on “Species Tulips: A Walk on the Wild Side”

  1. Pingback: Perennials made easy! Species Tulips: A Walk on the Wild Side | abramovalex

  2. Looking at your pictures was like a review of my own naturalised species tulips in my gravel garden. Over here in York UK, except for the very latest varieties they are all over now.
    A tip you might have mentioned to your readers is to let them self seed in succeeding years, do not dead head them!

  3. The species tulips are the most beautiful of all. You have a wonderful collection of these little gems. I have quite a few but it reminds me that I must get more for next year. I haven’ t got Clusiana and that is clearly a must- have. But they are all lovely.

  4. Gorgeous and I think I fell in love at first sight with Tulipa clusiana. I have not tried species tulips here but I have grown them in the past and love them. I will have to look up the cooling hours they need to see if they could naturalize here.

  5. Lovely pictures! I have grown several of these over the last few years, but they don’t last long… maybe too dry in summer. I really love Little Beauty and must order some more for next spring before mine all disappear for good!

  6. Very enjoyable walk on the wild side, Jason. I’m glad that you share my love of species tulips. I’ve grown all of these but have gone off the praestans a bit. No special reason as the colour is delightful and they’re multi-flowered too. I’d love to see species tulip growing en masse in the wild. It must be awesome!

  7. These are so beautiful, I wish I had them. I hate the hybrids I was left with: I can’t seem to get rid of them and this year they came up everywhere, only to be decapitated by squirrels and replanted by them as well which explains their proliferation. I will look into the species tulips now.

  8. Very, very nice collection of tulips! I have tried some special tulips (ones with fringed edges, double blooms, ones for shade), but I find they don’t come back after a couple of years. I think it may be because of my zone (4). I’ve gone back to the plain Darwin type tulips. I’m going to see how long they last.


    • The fringed eges are probably parrot tulips, they and many other hybrids are best treated as annuals – they won’t come back at all, or will come back with much less vigor. Species tulips and also the Darwin hybrids are more long-lived.

      • Just getting to your last three posts: it’s so much fun to catch up, though.
        But I have to disagree with you about the parrots, and also about hybrids generally being treated like annuals.
        I have some 10-15 year old parrots which are thriving, after both a dwindling and layoff of some 3-4 years. I also have quite a few hybrid tulips going strong after some 15-20 years.
        I really think the secret to keeping tulips is to plant them VERY deeply – deeper than recommended, and to scatter some blub booster over them every spring and fall.
        I do have to say that here in Michigan, I have very sandy soil with great drainage, which may explain some of my success.
        Also I have some wonderful praestans which are thriving after about 24 years….how wonderful to see them every early spring when I’m almost on the brink of despair….

  9. On the post you made a comment, I had a wild yellow tulip shown. What I will be showing shortly, it that one tulip times thousands blooming in a local woodland. As beautiful as the hybridized tulips are, they will never multiply like the species, let alone show up the next year. Even the species tulips in my own garden are not true species. They will never multiply like their wild cousins. Mine have been in the garden over ten years and there is barely more of them. You even mentioned one that I have and it stays about the same from year to year. At least they come back though.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: