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Tiptoeing through the tulips

The confused taxonomy and classification of tulips is clarified in a recent study.

Photo of Tulipa saxatilis

Tulipa (tulips; Liliaceae) is a genus of geophytes with about 76 species, occurring from south-western Europe and North Africa to Central Asia. The long history of cultivation of the genus means that the taxonomy and classification of the genus have been complicated by selection, hybridization and the occurrence of naturalized populations outside the native range, notably in Western Europe. As a result, aspects of Tulipa taxonomy come under both the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants and the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants, leading to problems in the interpretation of some taxa and groups as either wild species or naturalized horticultural forms that have been given species names and which have been treated as ‘neo-tulips’ by some authors. Notably the type of the genus, T. gesneriana, is almost certainly a garden tulip of hybrid origin (as T. ×gesneriana).

In a recent molecular phylogenetic study published in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, Tulipa emerged as monophyletic with respect to Amana and Erythronium, and four main clades were identified and are recognized as subgenera: Tulipa, Eriostemones, Orithyia and Clusianae (previously considered as part of subgenus Tulipa). Original species descriptions and type specimens of as many names as possible were reviewed and a revised checklist with full synonymy, typification and distribution has been prepared. As part of a collaboration with the Royal Horticultural Society, the checklist includes a proposed taxonomy for the neo-tulips (including T. ×gesneriana).

Item from Dr Maarten Christenhusz

Article reference:

Christenhusz, M.J.M., Govaerts, R., David, J.C., Hall, T., Borland, K., Roberts, P.S., Tuomisto, A., Buerki, S., Chase, M.W. & Fay, M.F. (2013). Tiptoe through the tulips – cultural history, molecular phylogenetics and classification of Tulipa (Liliaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 172: 280-328.

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