This section is from the book "Handbook Of Hardy Trees, Shrubs, And Herbaceous Plants", by W. Botting Hemsley. Also available from Amazon: Handbook of hardy trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants.
Tulips as well as Roses and Carnations have always held a distinguished rank in floriculture, and ever since the sixteenth century they have been the flowers of predilection with the Belgians and Dutch, who have made them an object of considerable commercial importance. At that period the passion for Tulips was general, and with some it degenerated into a very expensive mania, for which reason they were termed Tulip-fools by their contemporaries. But time and especially the progress of floriculture have put an end to these eccentricities, and, although they have lost their ancient glory, Tulips still preserve something of their former prestige; and if men no longer ruin themselves on their account, they still number a great many admirers. The genus Tulipa of botanists is so named from its Persian appellation tuliban or thoulyban, in allusion to its resemblance to the turban of the East. It is almost unnecessary to say that they are bulbous plants with simple one-flowered steins, whose flowers are composed of a coloured 6-leaved perianth, in two series of 3 each, 6 stamens, and a free ovary developing into a capsular 3-celled many-seeded fruit. The species, or natural varieties, are rather numerous, and at the same time very difficult to distinguish from one another. All the species belong to the Old World, and chiefly to the Mediterranean region and Western Asia. One species, T. sylvestris, with yellow flowers, is found in the eastern counties of England, but there is some doubt of its being a true native. It does not appear, that the Tulip was known in Europe previous to the Crusades, and the name, of Eastern origin, seems to indicate at least that the first cultivated varieties were brought from Asia. We find nothing in Greek or Latin authors to lead us to suppose that the Tulip was known in their times.
The mode of vegetation of Tulips deserves an instant's attention from us. Their bulbs belong to the class termed tunicated, because they are composed of the fleshy bases of leaves closely imbricated, which are either developed or remain in a rudimentary state, the whole enveloped in thin membranous scales. In an adult Tulip we always find toward the end of Winter, but before the blooming time, three distinct bulbs, each belonging to a different generation, namely (1) the flowering bulb in the centre of which the flower-bud is already formed preparatory to opening, and which also produces leaves; this bulb exhausts its juices according as the flower advances towards its end, and when that is reached, there is nothing left of it but the withered envelopes, which themselves soon decay and disappear : (2) the succeeding or replacing bulb, formed of very fleshy closely-packed scales, in the centre of which the leaves and flower-bud are in course of formation, and these are not fully developed till the following year; this bulb originates in the axil of one of the outer scales of the mature bulb; this, then, represents the second generation: (3) on one side of the last, and also in the axil of one of its outer scales, the bulb of the third generation already begins to show itself; it is fleshy and comparatively small, but enlarges in the course of the Summer. This would be the succession bulb of the following year, and would flower the third year, after having itself given birth to two generations of bulbs. The duration of each bulb is therefore three years, but it only flowers once. . The Tulip is essentially monocarpic, and in the annual replanting, the bulbs which are confided to the ground are never those which have flowered in the Spring, but simply the succession bulbs which were produced the preceding season. Besides the succession bulbs, which are in a measure the continuation of the same individual, other bulbs are produced around the full-grown bulb, but smaller and of a different shape, which we might term propagating bulbs. These are the offsets, properly so called, destined to live a separate and independent existence, and become so many distinct individuals.
The botanist Kunth, in the first half of the present century, enumerated thirty species of Tulip; but subsequent authors are far from accepting that number, some increasing it and others restricting it. The consequence is a very much entangled synonymy, and it is now almost impossible to clear up the fundamental species. These great divergences of opinion are due in the first place to similarity of the species, and then their variability under cultivation, and lastly the facility with which they intercross to form hybrids or fertile mules. All these causes taken together explain the almost unlimited number of varieties that exist in a wild or cultivated state, and the almost imperceptible shades by which they pass from one into the other.
Mr. Baker estimates the cultivated species at seven, distinguished as follows:
Stamens glabrous at the base.
Bulb-scales not woolly inside
1. T. suaveolens.
T. pubescens is a hybrid between 1 and 2.
2. T. Gesneriana.
3. T. Turcica.
Bulb-scales woolly inside
4. T. praecox.
5. T. Oculus - solis.
6. T. Clusiana.
Stamens with a tuft of hairs at the base
7. T. sylvestris, of which Celsiana, Gallica and Orphanidea are varieties.
The natural colours in the Tulip are yellow, crimson, and violet of different hues, to which may be added white, which, however, is only a decoloration. They are either isolated or blended one with the other in the most diverse proportions, or they exist separately and distinctly in the same flower in the form of bands or spots. Under cultivation the original single flowers have produced semi-double and very double varieties, in which not only have the stamens become petaloid, but the number of the perianth-leaves has also been greatly increased. And then there are some double varieties with the perianth-leaves torn or fringed in the most curious and monstrous manner.
All the species and varieties of Tulips flourish under our climate and produce their flowers in early Spring, but not all at the same time. There are early and late and intermediate varieties, which permits of having them in bloom for a month or more, in a well-assorted collection.
The following are amongst the rarer cultivated forms : T. sylvestris, with yellow flowers, and the only one found in Britain; T. Gallica, very similar to the preceding, but dwarfer and having smaller flowers; T. Celsiana, from the Mediterranean region, with yellow or orange flowers tinted with red externally, but most likely only a variety of T. sylvestris; T. Oculus - solis, a common European species, flowers scarlet or red having a black spot encircled with yellow at the base of each petal; and T. praecox, perhaps a variety of the preceding, of tall and robust habit, with crimson flowers.
We now come to the species which have produced all or nearly all of the florist's varieties, so extensively employed in Spring gardening, and also for forcing in pots. First is T. Gesneriana (fig. 244), a native of Western Siberia, and the parent of innumerable varieties, both single and double, and variously coloured. It has tall slender stems, obtuse petals very often striped with white or yellow upon a violet ground, or vice versa.
T. suaveolens, the Sweet or Van Thol Tulip, has short stout stems, acute petals scarlet or gold-coloured, or the two colours combined. It is quite unknown as a wild plant, but its nearest allies are South European. T. Turcica, or the Turkish Tulip, is a cultivated form of T. Bithynica, a native of Asia Minor. The petals of this form are scarlet or yellow, and more lanceolate, and especially more acuminate, than in the two foregoing. T. pubescens (Clara-mond, Brides of Haarlem, and other varieties) is a hybrid between T. Gesneriana and T. suaveolens.
All Tulips are worthy of cultivation; but nevertheless we usually confine ourselves to those species and varieties which long culture has greatly improved, and which are the progeny of the species above enumerated. At least they are attributed to those three species, though we must remember that the primitive characters are so radically changed in many forms that it is exceedingly difficult to refer them to the one or the other; in fact, through intercrossing, the classification of certain varieties must remain purely arbitrary.
Fig. 244. Tulipa Gesneriana. (1/4 nat. size.)
Gesner's Tulip is the oldest in our gardens, and by consequence the one upon which florists have exercised their powers to the greatest extent, resulting in the production of an unlimited number of varieties. The Van Thol Tulip is readily distinguished, when the specific type is not too much changed, by the shortness of its stem. It is besides three weeks or a month earlier, and may be forced mucli earlier. It includes single, semi-double, and very double varieties, self-coloured or margined with a colour diverse from the ground colour, assuming every tint from pure white and yellow to orange, purple, and violet. According to the botanist Fischer, it is common in the steppes of Russia, but this is extremely doubtful. The Van Thol Tulip undoubtedly holds the first rank in the genus of which it is a member. Less elegant in habit than Gesner's Tulip, it surpasses that in the greater distinctiveness of its varieties, in its hardiness, and in its adaptability to all purposes for which Tulips may be used. The Turkish Tulip is supposed to be the type of a group of large-flowered varieties opening very widely, and very brilliantly coloured scarlet and yellow, with fantastically fringed petals. Gardeners divide these again into several secondary groups. Some writers contend that these varieties are hybrids, the issue of crosses between T. Turcica and T. Gesneriana. It is far more probable that they are modifications of T. Oculus-solis, induced by cultivation, or perhaps produced spontaneously. But all forms of T. Oculus-solis, according to Mr. Baker, may be known by their densely woolly bulbs.
Gagea is a small genus of dwarf bulbous herbs with linear radical leaves and umbellate or corymbose bracteate scapes of small yellow or greenish-yellow flowers. G. lutea, Yellow Star of Bethlehem, is indigenous in Eastern Britain.