By Jennifer Gray Nunez,
Iowa State University Extension
Thousands of years ago, the tulip adapted to the harsh habitat of the Tien Shan Mountains of Central Asia. The spring was a time for tulip growth and fertilization, while the hot dry summers and cold winters provided a time for the tulip to retreat to dormancy and store nutrients underground in its bulb.
In the 10th and 11th century A.D., Turkish explorers discovered the tulip in full bloom in the Tien Shan. To the explorers, the tulip was a symbol of spring announcing the accessibility of the valleys of Tien Shan after the winter. The explorers collected the tulip and brought it to Persia where it reached the Ottoman Empire. During the 14th century, the tulip became a symbol of protection often embroidered on the underclothing of Ottoman soldiers. By the middle of the 16th century, the tulip was commonplace in the Ottoman Empire.
Love for the tulip grew when introduced to the Europeans in the 16th century. In 1532, Carolus Clusius, a French botanist, discovered the tulip in a Flemish kitchen garden. Clusius collected and cultivated tulip bulbs as well as recorded their characteristics. By the late 16th century, the University of the Netherlands asked Clusius to create a botanical garden at the University. By the end of his life in 1609, he had cataloged 34 different groups of tulips, was the first to distinguish between early, mid and late flowering tulips, and left an extensive collection in the Netherlands, which later instigated the tulip bulb craze of the mid-17th century.
Today, more than 2,300 tulip cultivars exist. Fifteen different divisions categorize the tulip based on height, petal shape and bloom time. Some of the divisions of tulips found in Iowa State University’s Reiman Gardens outdoor tulip display include Darwinhybrid, Triumph, Fringed, Parrot, Single Early, and Lily-flowering. Purple Prince (Tulipa ‘Purple Prince’) is a single early tulip that is blooming in Reiman Gardens Joey and Jesse’s Herb Garden.
For beautiful spring blooms, plant tulip bulbs in the fall once soil temperatures have reached 60 degrees F. A healthy tulip bulb is firm when squeezed, free of blemishes and dent marks and possesses a brown papery covering called a tunic. For best results, plant tulip bulbs about 6 inches deep in well-drained soil and water promptly after planting. Tulips perform best in a sunny location.
Three tulip displays are beginning to bloom at Reiman Gardens. A display on the History of Tulips is located in Joey and Jesse’s Herb Garden, a Dutch Production Field inspired the planting in the Margaret E. Penkhus Campanile garden and the Dunlop Courtyard hosts a rainbow of tulips in a Progressive Color Scheme planting.
Jean McGuire, Continuing Education and Communication Services, (515) 294-7033,