Contrary to popular belief, Tulips are not native to Holland. These beautiful bulbs actually come from the Middle East, from flowers that look somewhat different from the tulips that you are probably used to. These Middle Eastern flowers are called Species Tulips or Wild Tulips. Species Tulips are the stock from which those legendary Dutch breeders have been creating Hybrid Tulips, the plants you’re most likely used to, for centuries. Because of the huge variety of Hybrid Tulips that have been created over the years, there are far, far fewer types of Species Tulip available, especially commercially.
For many years it was extremely rare to see Species Tulips in Western gardens, but over the last few years they’ve started to become popular. This is partly because of a general movement toward more “natural” plants, but mostly it is because Species Tulips are much closer to true perennials than Hybrid Tulips are. Most Hybrids become less vigorous from year to year and usually need to be replaced after the second or third blooming season. Species tulips, when planted in the right conditions, will thrive for several years. Some will actually spread quite well in more Northern climates with just the right conditions. Species Tulips prefer very well-drained, almost rocky soil and full sun. They tend to bloom significantly earlier than their hybrid counterparts, and some varieties of Species Tulips produce multiple blooms on each stem.
Hybrid Tulips, on the other hand, are typically much larger plants, producing larger and more well-formed blooms. The bloom color of Hybrids is often more intense, and many gardeners prefer the broader selection that Hybrid Tulips offer. Because there are so many more varieties of Hybrids available, gardeners are much more likely to find just the right specialized tulip for their garden. While most Species Tulips bloom very early, planting a few different varieties of Hybrid Tulips can mean blooms spanning most of Spring. Many of us also prefer the more ordered, clean look of the single blooms that Hybrid Tulips are known for. Either way, both Hybrid and Species Tulips are beautiful, easy flowers to grow. Just consider the particular needs of your garden when choosing your tulip bulbs this autumn.