Monday, 24 February 2014

Tulips (Tulipa species)

Tulips are spring flowering bulbs from the genus Tulipa in the Liliaceae family. Tulips were first cultivated in Persia (present day Iran) and were thought to have been bought to Europe by Oghier Ghislain de Busbecq, ambassador to Suleiman I of the Otterman Empire (present day Turkey). Throughout the world there are many wild species and these were the proginators of the domesticated tulip. Wild tulips are usually much smaller than the garden hybrids. Wild tulips are also known as species tulips or botanical tulips.

An image of garden tulips (Tulipa spp) by John O'Neill
Garden tulips (Tulipa spp) by John O'Neill

Growing methods

Most, if not all of tulip bulbs, will have been treated intensively with chemicals. Very few are grown organically. In Britain the Organic Gardening Catalogue sell eco bulbs which are completely chemical-free. Those in America should try Eco Tulips for supplies.

Bulbs should be planted in the autumn about 10 – 20 cm deep. Tulip bulbs need a period of vernalization which is a period of cold weather to thrive. They prefer fertile well drained neutral soil, full sun, a long cool spring and a dry summer. They dislike wind and excessively wet conditions.

Wild tulips (Tulipa sylvestris) by Chantal Tasson

To encourage flowering year after year it is recommended to lift and dry the bulbs after flowering. Bulbs prefer to be baked dry in hot conditions during the summer months which is not always possible in the British Isles. Certainly we have seen bulbs in Kent repeatedly flower for years without being lifted each year. Bulbs can be stored in trays or net bags in a warm, dark, well-ventilated area at 18 - 20°C. Replant the stored bulbs in the autumn. Add organic compost when planting and apply more when they start to emerge from the ground. Deadhead the flowers after flowering but don't cut back the leaves. Leave them on the plant until they die back naturally.

The Royal Horticultural Society say that dwarf species such as Tulipa kaufmanniana, T. fosteriana, T. greigii and their hybrids often re-flower without lifting. Gardeners' World say that wild species are as reliable as daffodils at flowering, will cope with extreme weather and bulk up into clumps after a few years. Planting bulbs deep in the ground (about 30cm) will ensure no offsets are produced.

Tulips are propagated using bulb offsets, seeds or micropropagation using plant tissue culture under sterile conditions. Bulb offsets (small bulbs situated around the edge of the main bulb) can be taken and replanted during the dormant season. These will produce a genetic clone of the plant and will usually take at least a year to flower.

Seeds should be sown in the spring and will take several years to produce a flowering plant. Most cultivars are sterile or produce few good seedlings. Tulips hybridize very easily.

Tulips may be affected by various fungal diseases such as Botrytis tulipae.

Raw edible parts

All tulip petals are edible raw. The petals are large, crunchy, colourful and often sweet. The flavour depends on the species and growing conditions. Sometimes the white bit at the base of the petal is a bit bitter so it can just be snipped off.

The bulbs are actually edible but only after removing the outer skin and inner core and even then they have to be cooked. They are considered a famine food and only eaten during times of real hardship. Green Deane from Eat The Weeds says that “ … not all species of Tulipa need to be cooked. The Bedouins ate T. amblyophylla raw.”


Some people have an allergic reaction to tulips. This can be caused by simply touching them. To check for a bad reaction take a small piece of plant material, chew it a little and spit it out. Wait for about 30 minutes and see if there are any side effects such as flushing, sweating, dizziness, rashes or nausea.

Tulip fingers is an allergic contact dermatitis from handling tulip bulbs. It is a common occupational hazard among workers in the European tulip industry.

nb. Daffodils, another popular spring bulb in the British Isles, are not edible.

No comments:

Post a Comment