Extinct in the wild, Tulipa sprengeri is a late-flowering, bright-red tulip with small flowers and shiny green leaves.
About this species
Tulipa sprengeri was described in 1894 by Kew botanist J.G. Baker, based on cultivated material from Messrs. Dammann & Co. of Naples, who imported many bulbs from Amasya in Turkey. The specific epithet sprengeri honours Carl Sprenger, who was a partner in the firm. Tulipa sprengeri is commonly cultivated in gardens in Europe, but it is unknown in the wild at present, where it was last recorded in the late nineteenth century. This beautiful and distinctive, bright-red flowered tulip is the latest flowering member of the genus. In the UK, the leaves appear in late March and flowers in late May or June.
Geography & Distribution
Tulipa sprengeri is thought to have been native to Amasya Province in northern Turkey.
Tulipa sprengeri (Image: Richard Wilford)
A bulbous perennial with a bulb 3–4 cm long and a brown, papery tunic. Each plant has up to six leaves, which are glossy bright-green and narrowly lanceolate, the lowest and longest leaf being up to 35 cm long. The flowering stem is 30–40 cm tall and bears a single flower. The perianth segments (petals and sepals) are bright, intense scarlet, the outer three with a buff exterior, up to 6.5 cm long. The anther filaments are hairless and slightly flattened near the base. The stigma is three-lobed and short. The fruit is a narrowly cylindrical capsule, up to 5 cm long, with numerous brown seeds.
Morphological and molecular studies at Kew
Recent morphological and molecular studies at Kew have helped shed light on the classification of Tulipa sprengeri. As a result of studies by Michael Fay et al., Kew horticulturist Richard Wilford has placed T. sprengeri in Tulipa subgenus Eriostemones (despite its hairless filaments, this subgenus otherwise only containing species with hairs on the base of the filaments).
Threats & Conservation
There being no confirmed records of this species in the wild since the late nineteenth century, it is considered to be Extinct in the Wild, although it continues to thrive in cultivation. However, it is thought by some to be inconceivable that such a freely seeding species could become extinct through over-collecting. There are some who hope that a search of north-facing, wooded slopes around Amasya may well lead to its rediscovery.
Tulipa sprengeri is cultivated as an ornamental in Europe.
Tulipa sprengeri is easy to grow and will reproduce by seed freely in a suitable location. Deep sandy soil on greensand (sandstone rock) seems to suit it best. It is the only tulip that can be grown successfully in a woodland garden.
This species at Kew
Alcohol-preserved and pressed and dried specimens of other species of Tulipa are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details of some of these, including some images, can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.
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