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Species Tulips

For a long time I thought I was a tulip failure. Despite my best efforts the bulbs I planted would flower beautifully the first year and then dwindle until I had only a handful of blooms from 100’s of  supposedly perennial bulbs.

two yellow and white species tulip flowers

It turns out that while tulips are technically a perennial the modern hybrid types aren’t actually very good at it. Some do better than others but if you want years of blooms from a singly planting you should look elsewhere.

But I didn’t want to look elsewhere. I wanted tulips and I wanted them to come back year after year (imagine lots of foot stomping and door slamming here). Then I stumbled across species tulips when I was making my Van Engelen order this year.

Species Tulips - Tulipa saxatilis

I picked up 100 of their species tulip mix for my front garden to replace the defunct Appledoorn tulips. I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about these pretty spring bloomers.

These beauties are the wild ancestors of the modern Dutch tulip varieties. Like most wild ancestors they are much hardier than their modern counterparts.


Species Tulips are truly perennial and are known to naturalize under the right conditions. They do best in well draining rocky soil where the bulbs won’t get waterlogged.

Tulipa humilis Persian Pearl | Species Tulips

Tulipa humilis Persian Pearl – Photo by Van Engelen Inc.

They’ve come back for a few years now but I think the area they’re in is too wet. I’m going to try again in another area that actually has some drainage, maybe with the daylilies. They seem to thrive on benign neglect, my favorite type of garden plant.

They should get sun while blooming, which then do with the other tulips in the early spring. They can be planted under trees, by the time the tree leafs out the tulips have faded away. It’s best to leave the foliage alone after blooming so plant them somewhere you won’t want to mow right away or at all.

Unlike the large tulips we’re all used to they don’t have very large leaves. The foliage blends in pretty well and won’t be as distracting as the lingering leaves left behind by modern tulips.

Tulipa Peppermint Stick | Species Tulips

Tulipa Peppermint Stick – Photo by Van Engelen Inc.

The flowers look like tulips, sort of, if you squint. Once you know they’re tulips you’ll recognize the similarities but you might not get there on your own. The flowers are more open and less cup shaped. The flower petals tend to be pointy.

Species tulips are available in many colors, from bright orange-red to white with pale lavender centers.  Some varieties have single flowers while other put up multiple blooms.

Compared to modern tulips they are on the small size. They seem to max out at 12 inches tall but many types are shorter, some only 4 inches. The size makes them perfect for mass plantings, rock gardens and inter-planting in borders.

Tulipa batalinii Bright Gem | Species Tulips

Tulipa batalinii Bright Gem – Photo by Van Engelen Inc.

They’re also super cheap! I picked up 100 mixed bulbs for a little more than $16. For perspective 100  mixed Giant Darwin tulips are $35 from the same supplier. And these come back! (I’m still stuck on that if you couldn’t tell). Some types are a little more expensive but that’s how it goes.

If you’re interested in more about wild tulips check out the site Tulips in the Wild for gorgeous, scenic photography and more tulip information than you ever thought possible.

Check out my Garden page for more ideas or start here:

two yellow eranthis flowers against a dark woodland background with text overlay Uncommon Blulbs to plant this Fall for Spring Flowers

purple coneflower with text overlay for dividing perennials
Get the basics on Species Tulips

Heidi @ Pint Size Farm

Monday 13th of October 2014

Wow! Those are absolutely beautiful.