Wild Species Tulips Brighten Up Rocky Gardens in Spring

Cluster of red species tulip buds in rocky garden.

Going by different names such as Species Tulips, Botanical Tulips, Wild Tulips, Rock Garden Tulips, Miniature Tulips, they brighten up rocky gardens in early spring. Unlike their hybridized brethren that you see in most folks gardens, these are native and far more hardy given the conditions they prefer.

In a previous tulips post, I wrote about both types. However I’m dedicating this post to the more native species. The countless varieties and color combinations of these low to ground growers are truly amazing. For the record, I had no idea all these little tulip varieties even existed? So with camera in hand, the flower discovery continues!

Whimsical, Native, Non-hybridized Tulips

Bright red species tulip in rock garden.
Bright red species tulip with its whimsical leaves in rocky garden in early spring.

My online searches to learn more about these “Native” non-hybridized tulips has uncovered the following:

“Wildflower tulips also know as species tulips are long lived, hardy tulips that withstand stormy spring weather conditions. Wildflower tulips are a petite shorter variety that stands 4” to 6” tall. These easy to grow tulips multiply every year.”

“Species Tulips have a more relaxed or whimsical feel than the common hybridized varieties. The flowers are exotic and last well and impress with a handsome range of colors. The foliage of species tulips is smaller and less obtrusive than modern tulip varieties. Species tulips can be more enduring with less care than the hybridized varieties, coping well with extreme weather and are ideal for rock gardens.”

I suspect these traits are why they do so well in the xeriscape gardens I frequent to take photos. Considering our normal spring snows were non-existent this year, I’m all too grateful for these hardy blooms.

Also, as noted in the info box above, unlike their commercial tulip brethren, Wild, Native and or Botanical species of tulips multiply!! As I’ve observed over the last few seasons of photographing these little flower fellas, given room to roam they do indeed spread!

Mediterranean and Asian Natives

Here is more information on them with another recent photo of this red species tulip bud about to open. Notice how low to the rocky ground it is with hardly any stem at all.

Red species tulip bud in rocky garden.

“Species” tulips are exactly that—pure native species that have not been hybridized or selectively bred Species tulips are the king of the naturalizers.

While many hybrid tulips lose their vigor and decline over a few years, you can count on species tulips to multiply and form drifts in areas that have good drainage. 

These Mediterranean and Asian natives tend to be petite, sporting flowers that open wide on sunny days and close up at night and on cloudy days. Originating in rocky, mountainous terrain, species tulips are made to deal with droughts and won’t tolerate wet soils.

Red Riding Hood Tulips with Their Scarlet Blooms

Red Riding Hood tulips.
Red Riding Hood tulips with their variegated green and purple leaves.

As you can see in the photos above, even though these tulips are low to ground growers, with their bright red color they are hard to miss.

But the naive species tulip story does not stop there!

There are even Red Riding Hood tulips. These brighten a spring garden with dramatic scarlet blooms. The 4″ wide scarlet flowers are spectacular!

And this variety of species tulips has leaves that are variegated with green and purple on their foliage. With all their traits it’s hard to believe they thrive so well in such dry conditions. But I guess that’s what these ‘Natives” were born to do.

Candlestick and Lady Jane Tulips

Sometimes called a Candlestick, (Tulip.Tubergen’s Gem Tulip) is another hardy little species tulip. This miniature variety is really pretty. With its dark yellow and red blushing petals, it does give the appearance of little candle sticks. Around here they typically appear to bloom in early spring and they too are best suited for rock gardens I see them thriving in. Another note is that they are a perennial tulip and naturalizes (multiplies and spreads) over the seasons.

By my observations, Lady Jane tulips – with their white and pink flower petals seem to grow in a similar vein like the little Candlesticks. The clusters seem to proliferate and spread given they have the “space to roam”.

Yellow and blush red Candlestick tulips.
Little yellow Candlestick miniature tulips blooming in rocky xeriscape garden in photo above. White and pink Lady Jane tulips to the right.
Pink and white Lady Jane wildflower tulips.

Magenta and Yellow Persian Pearls

The one species of tulips I did not see much of this year were the lovely little Persian Pearls. With their magenta and yellow opalescence-like flower petals, they sparkle in the morning sun! Then again, we did not have the wonderful spring snow this season (unlike last season) which provided a bumper crop of these incredible little tulips! Even though the photo below is from a previous season, I still wanted to include it in this post. The are so beautiful!!

Persian Pearl miniature tulips
Persian Pearl miniature tulips – photo taken during a previous season when they were in adundance.

Bravely Blooming Next to a Prickly Pear Cactus

To say that some choose to bloom bravely is an understatement! This bright red species tulip has managed to keep some unusual company next to a prickly pear cactus plant. I love the contrast of textures. The smooth, shiny surface of the tulip petals next to the long spines of the cactus.

Red species tulip blooming next to prickly pear cactus.
Red species tulip bravely blooming next to a prickly pear cactus.

Mind you, just trying to get the photo of this tulip in its precarious spot was a balancing act. But if a tulip can be that brave, I suppose I can too!

Then there’s these brave little candlestick tulips that are literally growing up right through one of my favorite cactus plants as in the photo below. This was a first to see this season. These little flowers keep interesting company!

Little yellow botanical tulips growing up through cactus
Little yellow Candlestick tulips growing up through a barrel cactus.

When a Bee Photo Bombs Your Picture

As I’ve written about in many other posts, I love when bees drop in when you least expect them to. I never tire of when they literally “photo bomb” a picture.

Honey bee sticking out of Candlestick tulip.
Honey bee in search of pollen inside a little yellow and blush-colored Candlestick tulip.

Early spring has limited pollen gathering options for bees, so when they see an opportunity to belly up to the bar, I give them the right of way. With their determination, it always makes me laugh when I see them dive into a flower – such as this little Candlestick tulip with nothing but a bee butt sticking out.

My butt should look so good sticking out of a flower 🙂


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