Frequently and regrettably overlooked by spring bulb enthusiasts are the distinctive, little species tulips; even tulip taxonomists place species flowers in “Division 15”—a catchall for misfits that don’t conform to any of the first 14 categories.
Essentially wildflowers that require minimal care, species (or botanical) tulips are less susceptible to pests and disease than are the majority of modern cultivars. Most of these natural types will increase slowly if they’re given the same conditions that they enjoy in the wild: good drainage; hot, dry summers; and cold winters.
Different species bloom at different times, from early spring (dwarf rosy-purple and Leatherbulb tulips) to late spring or even early summer (horned and Candia tulips); all are reliably hardy to Zone 4 (or Zone 3 with excellent drainage and a dry winter mulch of evergreen boughs, pine needles or coarse leaves).
The bulbs of species tulips are small: one-third to one-half as large as modern cultivars, and their flowers look best when planted in groups of 12 or more.
- In fall, plant bulbs in rich, well-drained soil six centimetres apart, 10 centimetres deep (rule of thumb: three times the height of the bulb).
- Deter pesky wildlife by enriching the soil with bone- and/or bloodmeal (follow package directions).
- Cut off stems after flowering to prevent plants from seeding.
- Pull out leaves with a sharp tug once they have turned completely yellow.
- Discard any plants that display streaky, blotched or discoloured leaves due to virus; do not compost.