Plant of the Week: Species Tulip

Photo by Friends of the High LineUnlike modern tulip hybrids and cultivars, the flowers of species tulip (Tulipa turkestanica) open entirely in full sun. Photo by Friends of the High Line.

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.

The first of the tulips are blooming on the High Line, but don’t expect the tall rainbow colored blooms that are appearing in garden beds and window boxes all over the city. Our first tulip is a bit more modest, and may not even be recognizable as a tulip. Tulipa turkestanica, also known simply as species tulips, are short in stature, with blue-green strappy foliage and petals that are yellow at the base and white at the outer edge. Unlike modern tulip cultivars and hybrids, the flowers of T. turkestanica open entirely in full sun until the petals form an almost flat star shape, rather than opening only partially into the cup shape that we’re more familiar with in tulips. In fact, at a glance, these species tulips might be mistaken for miniature daffodils because of their coloring and shape.

What T. turkestanica lacks in typical tulip splendor, it more than makes up for in plentiful blooms and the ability to multiply both by bulb offsets and by seed. This is one of only a few tulip species that produces more than one bloom per stem, and in an ideal situation it will make as many as six or seven flower per stem. Planted in a very sunny spot with sharply draining soil, T. turkestanica will not only bloom year after year, its bulbs will multiply, and you may even find tiny tulip seedlings sprouting nearby late in the spring. The seeds can be harvested from the brown pods that form after the flowers fade, but species tulip seedlings are very slow growing and it can take up to several years for the young plants to make flowers. The faster way to propagate these plants is to dig up the bulb and break off and replant the bulblets – or offsets – that grow off of the mother bulb.

Tulipa turkestanica can be found on the High Line between West 14th Street and West 15th Street and between West 24th Street and West 25th Street.

Download our April Bloom Guide.

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line’s most important gardening projects — become a member of Friends of the High Line today!

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