Far be it from me to suggest that great minds work alike, but on returning from a happy expedition to photograph the species tulips in the alpine house at CUBG, I found that the Garden’s own ‘plant of the month’ for March is also species tulips.
Hardly surprising, really, as they look so mouth-wateringly gorgeous at the moment, beautifully displayed in terracotta pots sunk in the sandy grit of the staging. (And it gives me two bites of the cherry, because I can ramble on about hybrid tulips later in the year.)
The CUBG display currently contains seventeen different species, most at their peak now, some starting to drop their petals, one not quite in flower. I wouldn’t have the temerity to discuss their botany, but I thought it might be interesting to find the origin of their Linnean names. Unsurprisingly, it’s complicated …
Tulipa kaufmanniana (the water-lily tulip) is native to the Stans (i.e. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan). The species was named by Eduard August von Regel (1815–92), who began his career as a gardener’s apprentice in his native Gotha, and in 1855 went to the Imperial Botanical Garden, St Petersburg, serving as director from 1875 until his death. According to the invaluable International Plant Names Index, he was responsible for naming 3291 new species, of which the majority were sent back by botanists and explorers from the Russian Far East. T. kaufmanniana first appeared in his journal, Gartenflora, in 1877, and was introduced to European cultivation by the Dutch firm of Van Tubergen soon after. The name commemorates Konstantin von Kaufmann (1818–82), the general who defeated the rulers of Bokhara and Khiva, and became the first governor of Russian Turkestan.
Tulipa greigii: another Regel tulip (named 1873), native to Turkestan and Iran. It was named for Samuil Alexeyevich Greig (1827–87), briefly Russian minister of finance, and grandson of the Scots expatriate and Russian naval hero Samuel Greig, who was the father-in-law of Mary Somerville.
Tulipa turkestanica (you will be staggered to learn) also comes from central Asia, and was named by Regel in 1875. (It is one of my own garden favourites, its sensitivity to light being so acute that you can almost see the petals moving in response to the sun.)
Tulipa biflora (so called because it can have two or even three flowers on a single stem) was apparently first named by botanist James Donn (1758–1813) in the 5th (1809) edition of his Hortus Cantabrigiensis; or, A Catalogue of Plants, Indigenous and Foreign, Cultivated in the Walkerian Botanic Garden, Cambridge. (This is the former botanic garden in the centre of the city, not the current one.) Donn, a pupil of William Aiton and protégé of Sir Joseph Banks, was Curator of the University Botanic Garden from 1790 until his death. The plant was also noticed in its native habitat of central Asia by the traveller Peter Pallas (1741–1811).
Tulipa cretica comes from the mountains of Crete, where it flowers soon after the snow recedes. It was named by the Swiss botanist Pierre Edmond Boissier (1810–85), who travelled widely in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa in pursuit of plants, and Theodor von Heldreich (1822–1902), a German who became the instigator of botanical research in Greece, and was a friend of Darwin.
Tulipa neustruevae, which comes from the Tien Shan mountains of central Asia, was described as late as 1949 by the Russian botanist Eugenia Pobedimova. It may have been named for the soil scientist Sergei Neustruev (1874–1928), though I can’t confirm this. And apparently some botanists believe that the tulip is in fact a low-altitude variant of T. dasystemon (see below).
Tulipa kolpakowskiana (also known as the sun tulip) is another Regel naming (from 1877), but was also described by the British botanist J.G. Baker (1834–1920) (see below) in 1883. The Kolpakowski after whom the tulip was named is difficult to pin down: in spite of Regel’s date, he is sometimes referred to as an early twentieth-century explorer. However, a Gerasim Alexeevich Kolpakowski (1813–96), a Russian governor in Kazakhstan, seems plausible (Regel also named an iris after the same person). To make life even more complicated, although Curtis’s Botanical Magazine provides a plate showing this tulip in 1882, it is claimed that the ‘real’ T. kolpakowskiana is much lower growing, and difficult to cultivate.
Tulipa sogdiana comes from desert areas in central Asia, and was named in 1852 by Alexander Georg Bunge (1803–90), a Russian botanist of German origin who took part in several expeditions to the eastern provinces of Russia between the 1820s and 1850s, and has (inter alia), an allium, a pine, a pasque flower and an ash tree named after him, as well as a whole genus of hemiparasitic plants, the Bungeae. ‘Sogdiana’ comes from the name of an ancient Iranian civilisation, centred on Samarkand.
Tulipa iliensis is described as the ‘cowslip-scented tulip’, which does nothing for me as I’ve never been able to detect the scent of cowslips themselves. It’s from the Tien Shan region, and again named by Regel (1879). The Ili river rises in the Tien Shan, flowing nearly 900 miles into Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan.
Tulipa fosteriana (from which many, many hybrids have been derived, including the wonderful T. purissima) was first described by Russian botanist Boris Fedtschenko (1872–1947), a specialist in alpine plants. (His father was killed on Mont Blanc when he was eight months old, but he and his doughty mother, also a botanist, went on expeditions togther until she was over seventy.) The Dutch botanist Johannes Marius Cornelis Hoog (1865–1950), who worked for Van Tubergen, received some specimens in 1904 from Samarkand, and named the tulip in honour of the British physiologist Sir Michael Foster, himself a breeder of irises.
Tulipa humilis is a low-growing species from the Middle East and the Caucasus, first named in 1844 in Edwards’s Botanical Register, at that time compiled by the great John Lindley.
Tulipa bakeri was named in honour of the botanist J.G. Baker (see above) by Alfred Daniel Hall in 1938. ‘Lilac Wonder’ is by far the best known cultivar.
Tulipa dasystemon, another one from the Tien Shan, was named by Regel in 1879. (Confusingly, it is sometimes used as a synonym of T. neustruevae.) The Greek etymology indicates very ‘hairy’ stamens.
Tulipa undulatifolia was named by Boissier (see above) in 1844. Also known as the Eichler tulip, it has a wide spread across Greece, the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Iran, and Central Asia. August Wilhelm Eichler (1839–87) was a distinguished German botanist who worked on a new classificatory system for plants in the light of Darwinian evolution.
Tulipa schrenkii – Regel again, in 1873 (though it had previously been described as ‘Tulipa suaveolens’ (sweet-smelling) in 1794. Alexander Gustav von Schrenk (1816–76) was a Baltic German who worked in the St Petersburg Imperial Botanic Garden as well as teaching in the university of Dorpat (now Tartu) in Estonia. It grows from the Black Sea and the Crimea across central Asia and the Caucasus.
Tulipa stapfi, from Iran, was named in 1934 by William Bertram Turrill (1890–1961) of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in honour of Otto Stapf (1857–1933), who began his career as a taxonomist at the University of Vienna, but was effectively forced out by his boss, who apparently wanted the post for his son-in-law. Stapf went to Kew, where he became Keeper of the Herbarium and a British citizen. He had in 1885 named T. uniflora, of which T. stapfi may be a variant.
Tulipa montana was named in 1827 by John Lindley. As you might expect, it comes from the mountains of Turkmenistan. However, it seems to be widely known under a synonym bestowed by Hoog (see above) in 1904: T. wilsoniana. I confess myself stumped by this one: is it named for the great E.H. (‘Chinese’) Wilson? If not, for whom?
So: a mere seventeen of the approximately 75–100 known species tulips: and about eight feet of staging in the alpine house.
I haven’t included the well known species such as T. acuminata (which I keep buying but have never managed to get to flower), T. clusiana or T. praestans or let alone the rarer T. armena, T. cypria, T. hungarica, etc. etc. … it’s easy to succumb to modern-day tulipomania, the suspenseful waiting for something of matchless beauty to emerge from the unprepossessing, scrappy little bulbs.