Tulips are coming into flower now. Tulips are members of the Lily family. The Tulipa (Tulip) genus with  about 75 species is native to mountainous areas of Eurasia and North Africa. The main area of diversity is Central Asia. Some species and many cultivars are planted in ornamental gardens where they are prized for their spring flowers. Early cultivars were developed in Persia in the 10th century and were common in the gardens of the Ottoman Empire. Introduced to Europe in the 16th century and Britain in 1578, they became incredibly popular in The Netherlands  in the 1630s in what became known as ‘tulip mania’. Today The Netherlands are the world’s main producers of tulip bulbs. Variegated tulips (example shown below) were originally formed as a result of viral infection but are now stable variants produced by long breeding programmes. 

Tulip

Tulip ‘Apeldoorn’ Tulipa ‘Apeldoorn’, was introduced in 1951. It’s a member of the Darwin Hybrid group, known for their regal stature (they are amongst the tallest tulips), their huge blooms in vivid colours and their ability to flower strongly year after year.

tulip flower section

Tulip flowers are symmetrical and bi-sexual with 6 petals  and 6 stamens and a single style with 3 lobes. Pollination is by insects, mainly bees. They visit the flowers to collect pollen. Tulips do not produce nectar. The photo above is of a flower with 3 petals removed showing the stigma sitting on the superior ovary surrounded by 4 of its 6 stamens (with anthers). The difference in height between the stigma and anthers is small so self pollination may occur if insect cross -pollination fails, for example in cold wet weather.

tulip variegated

Modern cultivars are primarily based on Tulipa gesneriana. Darwin hybrids are crosses between this species and T fosteriana. Tulip species hybridise easily but most commercial cultivars are sterile. This photo shows a modern variegated cultivar. There are 15 different categories of tulip cultivars registered by the RHS.

wild tulip flower

Wild Tulip Tulipa sylvestris is a yellow tulip introduced to Britain  in the 16th century and now found in meadows and orchards in southern and eastern Britain. It is native to Eurasia and North Africa.