Specie Tulips, The Botanicals

Ilona Erwin

Tulipa Division 15 Ideal for Naturalizing

Want something different blooming in the bulb garden? Or do you just love dainty little plants? Grow some of the wild botanical bulbs, better known as specie tulips.

Specie tulips are sold in the fall as bulbs, just like their bigger brethren. Plant them in the autumn. They will grow underground throughout the winter to emerge with a burst of bloom in spring. Their foliage lasts for a short time, and then they go dormant for a long summer rest.

Specie tulips in Division 15 are something of a “catchall”. It is a category comprised of all the miscellaneous species of tulip; whatever didn’t fit elsewhere in the system of Tulipa divisions.

Look Closely

Perfect for any place with close-up viewing opportunities, or where low growing plants are prized, as in a rock garden.

The diminutive size of most of these wild tulips makes them attractive for unique plantings. They will look quite different from the usual bed of tulips, sometimes more like a group of crocus, in many cases.

The Fifteenth Tulipa Division

Tulips are divided up into fifteen divisions, in horticulture, the fifteenth being this wildling group called “species tulips”. Native to areas ranging anywhere from Central Asia to the Iberian Peninsula, they will grow in sunny spots with well drained soil and a cold period.

Although there are about 150 species, few are grown commercially. The ones offered will probably do very well in your garden.

Tulipa Bakerii

By Jerzy Strzelecki (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0

Also known as the Cretan tulip, a subspecies of Tulipa saxatilis. Found in the wild in limestone areas of the Isle of Crete.

Easy to grow, works well for naturalizing, and has pretty pink flowers. Often offered, and the best known, look for the cultivar ‘Lilac Wonder’.

Lilac Wonder

Lilac Wonder

Height between 6 and 8 inches, it is very hardy and multiplies. The delicate color would be a stand out in any rockery or area of grass, especially on a slope.

If you have a more neutral type of soil like I do, this may be one of the best of the wild choices to begin your collection. (Because I know how this ends for me…)

Tulipa Linifolia

Officially known as Tulipa linifolia, sometimes called the “flax-leaved” or Bokhara tulip.

These bulbs are known as the ‘Batalinii Group’, named for the Russian botanist Alexander Feodorowicz Batalin. They originate from Asia Minor, bloom mid-spring, grow to about 8 inches.

Named cultivars have yellow and red color, but the wild form is bright red.

T. linifolia
Bright red blossoms in mid to late spring, and cultivated since 1884. The cultivar ‘Red Hunter’ received the RHS Garden Merit award.

‘Red Gem’ is another red choice. Look also for other colors: ‘Bronze charm’, ‘Bright Gem’, ‘Yellow Jewel’.

Tulipa Clusiana

Sometimes called the Lady tulip, I bought it as “Peppermint Stripe”. The yellow variety is named ‘Chrysantha’.

This is probably my favorite of the tiny flowers in this division, and I am not alone in that affection. The plants are very proportionate with slender flowers and upright graceful plants.

Grows 6-12″ tall, mine were more towards the upper number.

T. clusiana is named for Carolus Clusius, a 16th century botanist from Holland.

lady tulip

Peppermint Stick

The original white and rosy red striped T. clusiana or lady tulip have been coveted in flower beds since 1607.

There are now a number of named bulbs and ‘Lady Jane’ is recommended for its white petals striped with rose.

Try naturalizing the bulbs, many of them perennialize quite well given a sunny spot with good drainage. Tulips humilis, T. clusiana, and T. tarda are three I suggest for this venture.

Tulipa Kolpakowskiana

Open only when the sun shines, this golden yellow flower blossoms early (late March to early April). an heirloom known from 1877. It has earned the RHSÂ Garden Merit award.

The cultivated one is actually related to, and not the real, T. kolpakowskiana. The real one is difficult to grow.

Tulipa Humilis

You may find names such as T. violacea, or T. pulchella, but they refer to this specie. It is one of the better ones for gardens.

A variable miniature that has a range of hues from pink, mauve, white, red to salmon and bluish.

Hardy in Zones 4-8, flowering in late March-early April, reaching height of 6-8 inches.

Persian Pearl

Persian Pearl

Persian Pearl

In this variety, the color deepens to a magenta.

Cup shaped flowers with grass-like foliage. While there are other cultivars, this is the most popular and widely available one.

Tulipa humilis ‘Albocaerulea oculata’

Tulipa humilis ‘Albocaerulea oculata’ photo by David Short from Cambridge Botanic Garden

Loved for its unusual appearance of  clean white with a bluish eye, which is pretty much what the Latin name describes.

In tulips the blues are more of a blue-violet.

This may be hard to source, and expensive, if you are hoping to add it to your spring show.

It can be slow to spread, but enduring in the garden.

Height 6-8 inches, Zones 4-8. Blooms mid-spring.

Tulipa Urumiensis

Tulipa urumiensis

Tulipa urumiensis
By Bernd Haynold – Own work, CC BY 2.5

Vigorous, long blooming, what is not to love? This is another small yellow flowering type. Very like T. tarda, I must now make a confession:

When I grew botanical tulips in the rock garden of my previous house, I was disappointed in the degree several of them looked alike.

Unless you are a collector, it may make more sense to choose one among T. tarda, this one, or T. turkestanica to grow in your situation. Perhaps choose on the basis of conditions or fine point like the white trim on the petal of T. tarda or the bronzy coloration of this one.

Only 3-4 inches high, it will bloom in late spring.

Ideal for an outdoor Fairy garden, and in a dooryard space before planting annuals.

Tulipa Tarda

tulipa tarda

From “sophies view” blog. Shows what this cheery little flower looks like when grown naturalized in a garden.

Tulip tarda

Photographed with Dahlberg Daisy companion.

Perhaps my favorite of the botanical types because it is so obliging. This is a specie that grows in the South, Zone 9-10, but is hardy as far north as Zone 3.

AKA T. dasystemon, it has been grown in gardens since 1590. Height of 6 inches, it is a strong yellow with prim white edges on each petal. Pretty in cottage and informal plantings, rockeries, in containers and courtyards.

Good types to try in clay soil are T. humilis, T. tarda and T. sylvestris

Tulipa Sylvestris

Tulipa sylvestris

Tulipa sylvestris
By luis Nunes Alberto – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Florentine tulip can grow in dappled shade which might be guessed from its other name, the woodland tulip. Although like most of its kind, it does better in sun.

Scented flowers are yellow with a very graceful shape and a nodding habit. Thomas Jefferson planted it at Monticello, where it grows in the West Lawn.

Height about 8-12 inches, it can be so vigorous that some call it a thug growing from underground stolons. It likes and thrives in disturbed ground.

Tulipa Turkestanica

Tulipa turkestanica

Tulipa turkestanica
By Ghislain118 (Own work)

Here is something a little different: fragrant and clusters of up to 12 blossoms to a stem.
Grows zone 4-8, and handles drought, once established.
Pretty white flowers with a central golden splotch, having perfume is something not all tulips can boast. There are mixed reviews on whether it is a pleasant smell or not, but for me, it was not noticeable in either a pleasing or displeasing capacity. Perhaps you need to get down on the ground and up close to judge for yourself. For me, it was very like the T. ‘Dasystemon Tarda’.

Grows to 9 inches and opens in sunlight.

Garden Ideas

Tulipa humilis

  • Cottage and informal plantings
  • Rockeries
  • Containers
  • Courtyards
  • Front of flower beds
  • Edgings
  • Naturalized on slopes
  • Gravel gardens

If you are planning to naturalize, it may be necessary for some types of species to be given a little help. Some will spread well on their own. There are always plants which need time to settle in (some more than others).

If bulbs are slow to multiply, consider lifting and dividing manually: simply separate the bulblets from their colony and replant.
Picture post of many beautiful species tulips as they look in a garden (in Western USA).
Prairiebreak botanicals

Pacific Bulb Society

Hunting for the Origins of Tulips?

Map showing origins of many botanical tulips.
Try trekking in Kazakhstan.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.