We might expect that the Lady Tulip would be a stately flower, if we should consider her history.
She made her way into Europe from the Orient during the sixteenth century, bringing with her the honor of being the chosen flower of Persia, where her colors and form were reproduced in priceless webs from looms of the most skilled weavers. No sooner was she seen than worshipped, and shortly all Europe was at her feet.
A hundred years later, the Netherlands was possessed with the tulip mania. Growers of bulbs and brokers who bought and sold them indulged in wild speculation. Rare varieties of the bulbs became more costly than jewels, one of the famous black tulips being sold for about $1800. Since then, the growing of tulips has been one of the important industries of the Netherlands.
There are a great many varieties of tulips, and their brilliant colors make our gardens gorgeous in early spring. Although this flower is so prim, yet it bears well close observation.
A Graceful Structure
The three petals, or inner segments of the perianth, are more exquisite in texture and in satiny gloss on their inner surface than are the three outer segments or sepals. Each petal is like grosgrain silk, the fine ridges uniting at the central thicker portion.
In the red varieties, there is a six-pointed star at the heart of the flower, usually yellow or yellow-margined, each point of the star being at the middle of a petal or sepal; the three points on the petals are longer than those on the sepals.
When the flower bud first appears, it is nestled down in the center of the plant, scarcely above the ground. It is protected by three green sepals. As it stretches tip, the bud becomes larger and the green of the sepals takes on the color of the tulip flower, until when it opens there is little on the outside of the sepals to indicate that they once were green. But they still show that they are sepals, for they surround the petals, each standing out and making the flower triangular in shape as we look into it. During storms and dark days, the sepals again partially close about the rest of the flower.
The seed vessel stands up - a stout, three-sided, pale green column at the center of the flower. The anthers flare out around the seed vessel and do not reach half way to the stigma, a position which probably insures cross-pollination by insects, since the bees cannot reach the nectar at the base of the pistil without dusting themselves with pollen.
The flower stem is stout, pale green, covered with a whitish bloom. The leaves are long, trough-shaped, and narrow with parallel veins.
After the petals and stamens are dropped, the seed vessel looks like an ornamental tip to the flowerstalk; it is three-sided, and has within double rows of seeds along each angle.
The bulb is formed of several coats, or layers, each of which extends upward and may grow into a leaf; this shows that the bulb is made up of leaves which are thickened with the food stored up in them during one season, so as to start the plant growing early the next spring.
In the heart of each bulb is a flower bud, sheltered by the fleshy leaf-layers around it, which furnish it food in the spring. The true roots are below the bulb, making a thick tassel of white rootlets, which reach deep into the soil for minerals and water.
Tulips are very accommodating; they will grow in almost any soil, if it is well drained so that excessive moisture may not rot the bulbs.
In preparing a bed, it should be rounded up so as to shed water; it should also be worked deep and made rich. If the soil is stiff and clayey, set bulbs only three-inches deep, with a handful of sand beneath each. If the soil is mellow loam, set the bulbs four inches deep and from four- to six-inches apart each way, depending on the size of the bulbs. They should be near enough so that when they blossom the bed will be covered and show no gaps. Take care that the pointed tip of the bulb is upward and that it does not fall to one side as it is covered.
Plan for Fall Planting
October is the usual time for planting, as the beds are often used for other flowers during the summer. However, September is not too early for the planting, as the more root growth made before the ground freezes, the better; moreover, the early buyers have best choice of bulbs.
The beds should be protected by a mulch of straw or leaves during the winter, which should be raked off as soon as the ground is thawed in the spring. The blossoms should be cut as soon as they wither, in order that the new bulbs which form within and at the sides of the parent bulb may have all of the plant food, which would otherwise go to form seed.
Tulips may be grown from seed, but it takes from five to seven years to obtain blossoms, which may be quite unlike the parent. Most of these seedlings will be worthless; a few may develop into desirable new tulips. The bulblets grow to a size for blooming in two or three years; the large one which forms in the center of the plant will bloom the next season.