“Clusiana is said to have travelled from the Mediterranean to England in 1636, which, as the first tulips had reached our shores about 1580, is an early date in tulip history. [She] takes her name from Carolus Clusius (or Charles de Lecluse) who became Professor of botany at Leiden in 1593….
“Her native home will suggest the conditions under which she likes to be grown: a sunny exposure and a light rich soil. If it is a bit gritty, so much the better. Personally I like to see her springing up amongst grey stones, with a few rather stunted shrubs of Mediterranean character to keep her company: some dwarf lavender, and the grey-green cistus making a kind of amphitheatre behind her while some creeping rosemary spreads a green mat at her feet….
“A grouping of this kind has the practical advantage that all its members enjoy the same treatment as to soil and aspect, and, being regional compatriots, have the air of understanding one another and speaking the same language. Nothing has forced them into an ill-assorted companionship.”
Sometimes I’m easily amused, such as when I post photographs of tulips in front of a gray stone, then get lucky enough to find a quotation (like the one from Vita-Sackville West above) that describes tulips among gray stones — w00t!
His heart was in his garden; but his brain Wandered at will among the fiery stars. Bards, heroes, prophets, Homers, Hamilcars, With many angels stood, his eye to gain; The devils, too, were his familiars: And yet the cunning florist held his eyes Close to the ground, a tulip bulb his prize….
“Tulipa clusiana: Originally from Kashmir, northern Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, this plant, first described by Augustin Pyramus de Candolle in 1803, is named for the great botanist Carolus Clusius, who in the latter part of the sixteenth century was professor of Botany at Leiden University and one of the first to study bulbs systematically. Nicknamed the ‘Lady Tulip,’ T. clusiana is a slender plant with a small starlike flower with carmine-red blotches on the three outer petals, a violet base, and narrow leaves that are undulating and grayish-green….
“Tulipa clusiana Cynthia: A cultivar of T. clusiana that was registered by C. G. van Tubergen in 1959, the outer petals of ‘Cynthia’ are reddish, edged chartreuse-green, and from a distance the flower appears soft orange. Inside it is feathered red on green and the base is purplish. The bulb is the same size as that of T. clusiana. ‘Cynthia’ grows well and is 25 centimeters in height.…
“Tulipa clusiana var. chrysantha: Described in 1948 by Sir Alfred Daniel Hall but known before then, this tulip was found in the mountains of northern Afghanistan in the same area where T. clusiana was found. It was first known as T. chrysantha and later as a variety of T. clusiana. A slender variety with small leaves and a flower form that is slightly elongated, its crisply pointed petals are deep yellow with a vast red blush on the exterior, visible when the flower is closed.”
On the same stroll through the gardens where I snagged photos of red tulips (see Some Time with Red Tulips (1 of 2) and Some Time with Red Tulips (2 of 2)), I also came across a few nice batches of Tulipa clusianavarieties, all aglow in the morning sunlight. Exactly which variant these flowers belong to escapes me a bit; they’re similar enough that I included mention of two of the varieties above, since they’re probably one of those two. They are all clearly members of the T. clusiana family, however; and they’re all commonly referred to by the name “Lady Tulip” — blooming in white, yellow, orange-yellow, and pale-yellow colors, and typically featuring shades of red on the outer sides of their petals. Personally I’ve never seen white ones — but I’d like to! — as it seems the yellow/orange varieties are more common here in the southeast.
“T. clusiana, the lady tulip, blooms the first of April and lasts for a long time. It is one of the most permanent things in the garden if it is left undisturbed. The slender buds, striped red and white like peppermint candy, never open until late in the day and not at all on cloudy days, but this does not make them less charming.”
“Tulips have traditionally featured in Persian and Turkish poetry, often as a token or symbol of love. They frequently appear in the visual arts of these cultures too, such as in miniature paintings and tiles….
“The single flower, on top of its straight stem was seen, in the Ottoman world, to represent the letter alif (for ‘Allah’) and therefore the unity and uniqueness of the monotheistic god….
“Beyond decoration, there is little herbal or other use for tulips, apart from being eaten, for example as a famine food by the Dutch in World War II. Today, the tulip has become very much a Dutch symbol — indeed, along with the windmill and wooden clogs, something of a cliché. The country is a major exporter of both bulbs and cut flowers; visiting the tulips fields in the Haarlem area is an important part of the Netherlands’ tourism industry.”
“Each yellow tulip … has a dark brown pupil at the base of the cup, and to look into it is to feel that the flower is returning the gift of attention — strengthening one’s existence that way.”
I had seen these Lady Tulips at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens earlier this year, noticing them late one morning under full sun and having trouble getting decent photos because there was so much light reflecting off the bright yellow flower petals that I threw out all the photos I took. On a subsequent trip, though, I took another crack at a photoshoot, waiting for the sun to dip behind some fast moving clouds to help my exposures.
In the first two shots below, you can see how the unopened buds are deep red with yellow stripes, yet the opened flower displays very little red (except at the base of a few petals) as its highly saturated yellow takes over.
You might gather from the three quotes I opened this post with that I did some tulip research, and found myself in gardening books, history books, and novels for tulip references. Tulips have quite a long and complex environmental and cultural history — extending from tenth century Persia, to Western Europe in the 1600s, to the present day.
I also spent some time with a new resource I recently learned about — an amazing compendium of information about plants and their impact on human societies. The site — Plant Humanities Lab — was recently launched (in March, 2021) and features “plant narratives” on its homepage that provide original research into the cultural significance of plants or plant families through multimedia presentations. If you are interested in interdisciplinary work on plants, history, and culture, please take a look at the site, treat yourself to the story of how boxwoods took over the world, and check back with the site often. There’s an introduction to the project here: Introducing the Plant Humanities Lab; and you can use the search tool on the lab’s homepage to find an enormous amount of information, media, and imagery about plants and their histories.
Like most tulips — so often photographed as fields full of flowers — these Lady Tulips grow very close together, substantial masses of flowers that seem to be competing for the light. They also seemed to compete for the attentions of The Photographer by waving back and forth in the breeze, and I did manage to find a few I could isolate for some decent closeups. I couldn’t help but think that the height variations you see in the photographs below were arranged by the plant on purpose, as if some blooms deferred to other blooms for the good of the whole field. In the last photo below, you may get the sense I had of all the blooms: perfectly formed flowers atop long stems, nearly floating above the grass and leaves filling the region I photographed.