SPECIES TULIP - Tulipa Wilsoniana

Tulipa Wilsoniana planted in a rocky border with fully opened red flower
Tulipa wilsoniana

The Tulipa wilsoniana, or as it sometimes known as - Tulipa montana 'Lindley', is a specialty among species tulips and it is all down to its native habitat. Found on the mountains of Turkmenistan at a height of approximately 3000m, Tulipa wilsoniana is categorized among the group known as the 'alpine tulips'. Like all true alpines Tulipa wilsoniana exhibit specific characteristics that has enabled them to survive in such harsh conditions.

The most noticeable and typical trait of all true alpine plants is to do with their flowers as they are almost always far larger than the size of their leaves, two inches across in the case of Tulipa wilsoniana. They have also evolved other modifications to tolerate the cold, drought and poor quality soils that the mountains have to offer. This is demonstrated by the bulbs thick, hard protective outer skin, and the woolly tip that help protect the apical bud from the worst of the cold, mountain weather.

As strange as it may seem, these special modifications can also help these plants deal with extremes of heat. This is because both environments suffer with a lack of available water (in its mountain environment water becomes unavailable during the winter period as it freezes) and as such, it has become a particular favourite of the tulip-starved residents of Southern California. Although the weather in these harsh dry environments is unsuitable for flower initiation, you can force a dormancy period on the bulb by placing it in the salad compartment of a household fridge. Leaving it there for 6 weeks or so will usually do the trick. However the change in habitat will create a far taller plant than the European norm of no more than 6 inches.

In the cooler environment of northern Europe, Tulipa wilsoniana will perform best in a sunny position planted into a well to free-draining soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. Plant the bulbs three times the depth of the bulb.

In the south of England you can expect to see the emergence of new succulent growth come January. These first few leaves are slow to progress but they eventually develop turning a pretty glaucous colour caused by a grey-blue waxy surface. Mature leave will also display an ornamental oscillating edge. Unfortunately you will have to wait until at least the end of March for the flowers appear but it is worth the effort once the first deep vermilion red flowers with blue-black centres shows their faces.

Main image attribution: I, KENPEI https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

For related article click onto the following links:
How to Grow Species Tulips from Seed
OLD DUTCH TULIPS - Tulip 'Absalom'
RHS Tulip wilsoniana

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