Another shout-out for species


A comment from MaryContrary on Michele’s post prompted me to continue what I am sure to many of you are my obsessive and tiresome ravings about species tulips. This time, however, I return to the subject with renewed purpose. It’s been a horrible “spring” for bulbs and I’ve noticed that divisions such as single early, single late, and Triumph have meant little among the hybrids; everything pretty much came up at the same time: now. In fact the single earlys are a bit behind the lates. This can be annoying when you’re trying to have some measure of control over the timing of your bulb displays.

With species, though, I’ve noticed that they come up unfailingly at their advertised times. And because they are generally lower to the ground, they’re less likely to get beat up by April blizzards; their toughness belies their dainty appearance. Some, like turkistanica, have a charming habit of closing and opening with the sun. Also, you don’t need a ton of them; they can be scattered about ground cover and perennials (probably not grass; you’d need to mow too soon). Finally, their foliage is practically invisible; so much more manageable that the yellowing remains of big daffodils and hybrid tulips. I don’t like to see that much plant decay in the spring.

In April, I had the turkistanica, what I think is kolpakowskiana (top), and the red batalini. Now I have the striped clusianas (Jane and Cynthia, Jane shown above), and I expect acuminata in a week or so. As I’ve discussed before, it’s all about expectation, and these plants provide four to five weeks of varying flower forms and colors. Some are oval-shaped, some star-shaped, and some, like acuminata, are just crazy.

There has been only one disappointment: alba coerulea oculata, a very early (and pricey) variety with an amazing steel blue center, did not return. But overall, I’d say these plants demonstrate an ability to thrive and spread equal to that of many common perennials. I am sure I have some fellow species fans out there.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. We like obsessive, Elizabeth–and you’re never tiresome. Now maybe you can go look at my posting from Friday and tell me which species my tulips are…I think they’re either greigii or kauffmaniana, but I’m learning about species tulips slow but sure…and would learn more if I’d stop losing labels! I have tardas and batalinis and some greiggis elsewhere in the yard, but these I’m not sure about.

    cheers, jodi (

  2. Great. More fuel for the fire.
    I’m sure I’m not the only gardener who develops these compulsions. The species tulips craving is taking over for my aesculus obsession. That particular green sickness went on for a couple of years, but now that I’ve finally scored an a. pavia and an a. parviflora, I just don’t have the room for any more (although I think periodically about sneaking either a. flava or a Ft. McNair hybrid into my neighbor’s yard). The nascent species tulip obsession, however, has no such practical limitations. Heh, heh, heh.

  3. What a pleasant surprise to see a photo of the very same tulip blooming just a few feet away from the house. I’ve planted species tulips and narcissus for the past two years, and the only thing I regret is the lousy maps I’ve kept of what went where so I can order more of the same.

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