Flaming flowers that brightly blaze. Those words, written in tribute to Vincent van Gogh’s paintings, could just as easily apply to the dazzling displays of tulips for which that troubled artist’s native Netherlands is world-famous. Tulips first came to prominence when they were cultivated in Europe, but if you thought Holland was their natural home, think again.
Wild tulips are native to Central Asia, not Amsterdam. In traditional tulip hotspots, the mountain slopes are shrouded in a glorious technicolour blanket. Sadly, these spring spectacles are in danger of being consigned to the history books. Despite the worldwide popularity of these flamboyant and festive flowers, many wild tulips are threatened with extinction.
Next time you buy a bunch of tulips or a bag of bulbs, take a moment to reflect on the sobering fact that their wild ancestors face an uncertain future.
The importance of wild tulips
Tulips are one of our most familiar flowers. These perennial herbaceous bulbiferous geophytes (yes, really) bring a welcome splash of spring colour to our gardens and kitchen tables. There are over 3,000 varieties of cultivated tulip.
Tulips also have tremendous cultural significance for the people of Central Asia. In Kyrgyzstan, they feature in urban displays and within the designs of traditional handmade shyrdak rugs.