Plant Profiles Index > Tulipa clusiana

As a rule, tulips are not suited for Austin gardens because tulips require a period of cold before they sprout and bloom. You can to grow them like annuals (that is, expect to replant new bulbs every year), if you first chill the bulbs for eight to ten weeks in the refrigerator and then plant them in in December when the ground has cooled to between 40 and 50 degrees. Then pray that we don't have a heatwave in February. You will have to replant them every year.

However, species tulips are suited to Austin's heat and alkaline soils. I tried several, but I've had the best luck with Tulipa clusiana var chrysantha, a native of Uzbekastan. Not only has it come back every year, but its numbers are increasing. One characteristic that sets chrysantha apart from T. clusiana is that the flowers are star-shaped when completely open. Fully open, they look more like rain lilies than tulips. Another difference is that chrysantha is supposed to be slightly shorter and bloom slightly later than the original T. clusiana.

I'm not sure what variety I have; I bought them from three different sources. Photos of Tulipa clusiana var chrysantha usually show bright yellow and red flowers, probably 'Tubergen's Gem'. Mine are delicate creamy, butter yellow and a soft red. They look like 'Cynthia' in some photos. I have two different kind. The taller ones bloom a week or two earlier and have thinner petals with reddish marks in the throat. The shorter ones produce a slightly squat flower that has a completely yellow throat. Otherwise, the color is similar.

T. clusiana grows only 8 to 10 inches tall. Because it also needs well-drained, organically enriched soil, it is often used in rock gardens. I grow mine at the lower edge of the meadow, where a natural slope provides the requisite drainage. When I plant them, I mix in lots of compost and some rough granite sand. Do not put them in a spot that gets a lot of water during the summer, when they are dormant, or they will rot. Short plants such as alyssum and viola make good companions.

In Adventures with Hardy Bulbs, Louise Beebe Wilder writes,

"When we receive the bulbs of the Tulip, we know at once that we must give it a warm situation and a well drained soil with a cushion of sand to boot, for it has the telltale felt lining on the inside of the tunic...the single flower opens as flat as a star. It is pure yellow, flushed rosily on the backs of the segments. It is said that the higher it climbs in the mountains, the yellower it becomes, and the dwarfer in stature." --p 327

photo: Tulipa clusiana Tulipa clusiana (the tall one)
2004-03-25 Austin, TX
photo: Tulipa clusiana Tulipa clusiana (the short one), possibly Tulipa clusiana var. chrysantha Tubergen's Gem
2004-03-30 Austin, TX
photo: Tulipa clusiana Tulipa clusiana. The color is delicate not glaring as in other photos I've seen. So what kind do I have?
2004-04-01 Austin, TX
photo: Tulipa clusiana Tulipa clusiana 2000-03-18 Austin, TX
photo: Tulipa clusiana Tulipa clusiana
Austin, TX