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The last tulip

Richard Wilford
10 June 2013

As summer finally arrives, the spring bulbs fade and gradually die down for their summer rest. Most tulips have long finished flowering - but there is one species that waits until June to display its bright scarlet blooms.

This last tulip to flower is Tulipa sprengeri, a strikingly beautiful species. It is well-known in gardens as the tulip that marks the end of spring, but it is sadly thought to be extinct in the wild. If you hurry, you can still see this late-flowering beauty at Kew.

Flowers of Tulipa sprengeri

The bright scarlet flowers of Tulipa sprengeri 

Where to see it

There is huge variety in tulips and some are very hard to tell apart, especially some of the species that grow wild in an area stretching from south-west Europe to Central Asia. Tulipa sprengeri is one of the more distinct, partly due to its late flowering. The scarlet blooms have pointed petals that form a funnel-shaped flower with six yellow anthers inside. The outer three petals are stained with buff on the outside. It makes an eye-catching display and can be seen now in the Woodland Garden and Rock Garden at Kew. Print out our handy Garden map (pdf): the Woodland Garden is at Map reference M8, the Rock Garden is at O8.

Flowers of Tulipa sprengeri

Tulipa sprengeri in the Woodland Garden

Turkish origins

Tulipa sprengeri was first collected from north-central Turkey in 1892 but since the late nineteenth century it has never been found in the wild again. Remarkably it has survived in cultivation for all those years, mainly due to the fact that it produces copious amounts of seed. If left to fall the seed will germinate and new seedlings will grow up around the parent plants.

Flowers of Tulipa sprengeri

Flowering on the Rock Garden

Cultivation

Tulipa sprengeri grows best in soil that doesn’t dry out too much in summer. It can even do well in dappled shade or in grass, unlike most tulips, which prefer well-drained soil and full sun. Bulbs can be bought but they don’t like to be moved around too much and may not always establish well, so the best way to introduce it to other parts of your garden is to collect seed and sow it directly where you want it to grow. Thin, grass-like, seedling leaves will appear first and these eventually grow into flowering plants in 3 or 4 years. Learn more about this plant in Kew’s species profile.

- Richard -

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