Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hybrid Tulips vs Species Tulips

Tulips, ah the sweet colors of tulips in spring. Nothing can be more welcoming than a big swath of tulips. Love the colors! There are so many to choose from that it can be very difficult to choose. Well, today's post is on choices. Choices not of the color kind, but of the specific kind of tulips to plant-hybrid or species. First of all, let me say I am not an expert on tulips at all. This post is a compilation of two years of specific observations of the behavior of one type of hybrid tulips versus one type of species tulips. The hybrid tulip cultivar is 'Pink Impression', and the species tulips I chose to grow is Tulipa linifolia. Some of the pictures of the hybrids are of other than 'Pink Impression', but only for show. The photos that count are of the two specific tulips I am comparing.
There are a few notable differences between hybrid tulips and species tulips in general. Hybrid tulips are usually pretty flashy and some have variegation like the one pictured above. It is 'Happy Days'. The petals are rounded as well.

My one and only species tulip, pictured above, is Tulipa linifolia. It is smaller than the hybrid tulips. Way smaller and has a different type of pistil and stamen in the center. The petals are pointed as well. The next notable difference is in the foliage. Hybrid tulips have bold, large foliage. These leaves are quite wide and get quite long. They are thick and hefty too.

Whereas species tulips have finer leaves which are quite a bit shorter and narrower. In fact, unless you knew this was where you planted species tulips you would not know this was tulip foliage at all.
Just look at this height of these 'Happy Days' tulips. They are easily 24' tall.

Here the species tulips barely reach 12" tall.

But the real difference comes between blooms and the lasting power of hybrid tulips versus species tulips. Here we have 'Pink Impression' blooms in April of 2008. This was their first year of bloom. Here is the exact same bed of 'Pink Impression' tulips in April 2009. Do you see a difference? There are notably fewer of the hybrid tulips in this second year. I really did not expect any to return so I was pleasantly surprised to get so many this year.
The same deal here with the Linifolia tulips. This is them in 2008.

All have returned this year as well and bloomed beautifully. In fact, I have found seedlings of the Linifolia tulips in gardens where they were never planted. I am thrilled.

Another difference between the 'Pink Impression' tulips and Linifolia tulips are the 'Pink Impression' came and left much earlier than the Linifolia tulips. In fact, the 'Pink Impression' bloomed nicely for about one week. The Linifolia tulips started right about the time the 'Pink Impression' tulips were fading and have outlived the hybrid tulips by at least 10 days so far. They bloom a bit longer, more like two weeks.

Also, due to the smaller diminutive nature of the Linifolia tulips, they tend to fade away rather quickly, unlike the huge foliage of the hybrid tulips. This is a bonus if you overplant and interplant as I do in my garden.

When I saw so many of the hybrid tulips had returned this year in this particular bed I had debated giving it another year before I did this post. But I decided to do this post now and follow up in one year.

But here is the real deal, the fact so many of the 'Pink Impression' tulips returned bodes well for this cultivar. Some of the other cultivars in my garden such as: Apledorn white and red have totally disappeared after only one year of bloom. Generally speaking, I have found the hybrid tulips will fade away after one or two years, disappear for 2-3 years then reappear for one year of bloom, then disappear for good. I am referring to Darwin hybrid tulips since that is all I plant here since they are supposed to be longer lasting than tulips such as the 'Parrot tulips' for example. You see my goal with growing tulips, or any plant for that matter, is to grow ones that will return faithfully and reliably each year. The hybrid tulips have not done this for me in the eight years I have been gardening here so I switched to the species type. I have found through research species tulips have been around for hundreds of years. I liked the Linifolia tulips simply because they are red.

There you have it, some of the differences between hybrid tulips and species tulips. The findings are general and both hybrid and species tulips have their admirable traits. For me though, the final straw is how long will they last in my garden without replanting? I want anything I plant to be here long after I am gone, and I don't think the hybrid tulips will fit the bill in my garden.We shall see what next year brings and I am thinking that should I decide to get more tulips, they will be species types.

in the garden....


  1. I'm definitely adding some specie tulips to my garden next year Tina. Thanks for the sharing the comparison with us. :)

  2. Tina you have sold me about planting more tulips in the garden this Autumn for sure !
    Those pink ones were impressive to me : )

  3. I love tulips but so does the groundhog. I should dig them all up after they're done blooming and give them away! Some of the species do have cute patterns/colors. I'm personally focusing on daffs and hyacinths now!

  4. Tina, very interesting information! I have never gotten tulips to come back! Well...they come up and there are leaves, but they never bloom the second year. I need to look further for species bulbs in fall and not just be content with the usual hybrids. Thanks--this is GREAT news!!

  5. Nice educational story. I don't grow tulips because of the critters, but I love to see them in the gardens of others. I like your species tulips, too.


  6. Great info on tulips. I thought they all looked similar. Your post was an eye-opener. Amazing colours to brighten up any garden.

  7. Hi Tina, this was a very enjoyable post.

    I've never tried the linifolia. I used to have a big bed of Greigii and Kaufmannana. They are small like yours but the Greigiis have lovely striped or mottled foliage that is much wider than your linifolias. They are early bloomers about the same time as the daffodils. They return reliably every year.

    I'll look for linifolia this fall when I plant more bulbs. I would like a late bloomer.

  8. Tina, Good points about these tulips...I planted quite a number of the Darwins last fall and hope some return! I do plan to feed them so we'll see! I have one or two of the linifolias and a few other of the species. They are a rugged little group of plants that I can strongly recommend! We'll see what happens with those orange tulips! I want them to return to my garden! gail

  9. I'm planning on adding more tulips to the garden next year. So far the one's I planted in the front garden have lasted two years. I'm hoping for several more.

  10. Tina, you must be psychic! I have been seeing the name "species tulips" on several posts now, and I was going to ask either in a post or a comment some time what the difference was. Now I know!

    I realize after looking at your photos that all I have are hybrid tulips. I love the look and variety of them, but gosh, I don't want to have to plant hundreds of tulip bulbs every fall. So far I've been lucky, and most have returned each year--but then, most of them are no more than 3 years old. By the way, I bought a bag of 50 "Pink Impression" last fall, and so far this spring I have been really impressed with them.

  11. Racquel, You are welcomed. I had always heard of species tulips but really did not know how different they are. So far good!

    Joy, Glad you like the 'Pink Impressiion'! They make a pretty good impression on my front walkway I guess.

    Monica, Daffs and hyacinths are Wunderbar!

    Linda, Yes-do check out the species. I think I bought mine from Scheepers. They list the date they were introduced and everything. Very reliable so far. Still showy too.

    Cameron, Those critters sure do affect our gardening at times. Little buggers.

    Kanak, One thing you can always count on from me-lots of colors. The brighter the better:)

    Marnie, These guys have proven themselves. Totally different from hybrids (which I do like) but nice all the same. Starting to go by now.

    Gail, I hope those orange ones return too and I bet they'll come back next year again.

    Dave, Those tulips looked great this year!

    Rose, That is a really good thing about blogging-issues come up on blogs as they seem to come in gardener's minds. Works perfect. I do like the 'Pink Impression'-so far. But not as many bloomed this year though they all came up. The hybrids all seem to come up AND all bloom. I found a few in the frontyard which is so not where they were planted. Really weird but nice. Species are a good addition to a garden. Try them out. Scheepers is the one I think I got mine from. Good info in their catalog and good prices.

  12. I planted four this year, don't know what kind or if they will return here in Florida, I will be trying again though. Thanks for the information on the "Dog Vomit", that's sick sounding you know!! I went back and linked to you on my post.

  13. Excellent tulip tutorial, Tina! Have you ever tried delightful T. turkestanica ... my favorite.

  14. At first I was thinking species isn't the kind to have BUT! I'm with you, I want them back yaer after year. Depressing about the others, I thought it was just me.

  15. The ones that do not come back, it may be that it just was not cold enough for them over the winter. The color sure is nice, love the first photo.

  16. You're killing me with that first picture... I love those big showy tulips but they just don't last long enough, most of them anyway. I have been meaning to try the species tulips, but will have to put them in pots or cages, or the voles will enjoy them more than I do.

  17. This was very interesting. I don't think I'd really ever paid attention to hybrids vs. species. I think this year I'm going to try some of the species and see if I have better luck.

  18. Great post Tina, I love tulips but they won't grow here. Too hot.
    I had the Parrot Tulips in N.C. & thought them quite lovely. Had to plant the bulbs in veggie cans so the voles or moles wouldn't eat them. That works---just a lot of buried cans. lol
    Love the pics.

  19. Hi Tina, I really enjoyed this and it is definitely very helpful but now let me see if I got it right (I'm a little slow but I get there eventually ;-)
    The 'hybrids' are bigger and more impressive but don't bloom as long and don't come back with as many as you originally planted. The 'species' are the good old fashioned tulips (?) and they may not be as impressive but are more reliable in the long run?
    Just checking - not sure if I understood it right and I really do want to know. I love tulips - just never planted them again after the first time (in the fall 19 years ago) when they hardly came up the following year. I figured critters ate them.

  20. Darla, You are welcomed! I posted it under fungus in my archives. It is kind of neat, just doing what it does. It will go away.

    Joey, Hello! No, I have not tried turkestanica. I will surely check them out though!

    Dawn, Species anything is just about always a better choice in my humble opinion. Sure, it won't be as splashy or wowsy, but it will last and be old faithful.

    Mom, The hybrids just tend to run out of steam. Not entirely sure. But I do love them all. Keukenhof was a special treat-they make it look so easy! I believe in Holland they dig their bulbs each year.

    Sweet Bay, I too love the hybrids, just can't see planting them each year. I bought several hundred for pennies at Rural King. I am enjoying them so much but if not for the sale I would not bother. Did you see Lola's trick to plant bulbs in cans? With holes of course. I have also planted mine in chicken wire. The critters are not as big a problem here as is the wearing out of the bulbs.

    Tatyana, Thank you! You had me going with the new name!

    Catherine, It will really diversify your garden. Different-yet still tulips. My friend just literally could not believe me when I showed here these but now she is in love with the species.

    Lola, Yes, tulips do need a chilling requirement. Bummer. Guess you'll have to enjoy all those bulbs we can't grow here instead. Lucky you!

    Linda, You got it exactly! I guess it is a matter of what you want in the garden. I want it all, but cannot see planting every single year to have a nice display of hybrids. The species-one time deal. But both work in the garden and so add to the diversity. A big deal for me.

  21. I really like species tulips although I have yet to plant any at our current home. I did have a few varieties at the condo about 6 years ago. The squirrels don't like species tulips very much so you have better odds of them not being eaten.

  22. I love the sound of species tulips, I have some that might not be hybrids, they have the small pointy flowers, but also big floppy glossy foliage. I'll have to be more observant about what happens. I just have accidental tulips - those that still hang around from years ago get to stay, but I never plant new ones anymore.

  23. so very beauty colours !! wonderful, liebe Grüße aus Bremen von Kathrin

  24. A brilliant post, thank you. Now I'm determined to track down some species tulips and see if they do better with us. I reckon hybrids are just very expensive annuals for me!

  25. Really nice informational blog...such pretty pictures. Thanks:)

  26. Interesting comparison! Species or hybrid...they both add so much beauty to the garden!

  27. These are absolutely gorgeous! I haven't had any luck with Tulips. They seem to bloom late in my garden. Maybe they aren't getting enough sun. I'll have to try a different species (although I have no idea what species I have in there now! lol). -- Jackie

  28. Hi Tina. I think you know quite a bit about tulips! I have zero species tulips in my garden but I think I'll add some this year. I like my tulips to return too but so far, my hybrids have always done that and multiplied to boot. Where I had one bulb, I now have clumps so I don't have issues with them on that front. Maybe reliability depends on your zone, soil, etc.??? I don't think you can go wrong with them either way, right?

  29. My love for tulips are ever growing, but I'm not sure if they can survive hot climates as high as 38 deg. C (100 deg F)? If yes, I'd go crazy. All your tulips are soo charming, enjoying your great treatment!

  30. I'm planning to get some species tulips next year for sure. I wonder if they're any more deer resistant. Have you read the essay "Tulip Heartbreak" by Constance Casey? I just love it.

  31. Hi all! Just about cut all the tulips off. They are done for the season. Now comes the iris. I love the iris even more so than tulips.

    Thanks for all of your nice comments. Tulips surely add lots to the garden!

    Chandramouli, I would think there would be some types of tulips that do grow in your neck of the world. Not sure the type. Most tulips are native to areas where there is a wet cold winter, with hot dry summers. If your area of India is like this then I would think they would grow there. Not sure at all though. Needs further research in my book. I'll try to look it up later and let you know.

    JGH, I just read 'Tulip Heartbreak' and enjoyed it very much! Thanks for the link. Tulips can surely be persnickety, but you gotta love em.

  32. They are so beautiful Tina! I only wish they would last longer and bloom each year. I added some tulips to the garden this year and hope they will return next year as well. Only time will tell though...