Tulipa gesneriana

All cultivated tulips and many wild tulips have one shared ancestor: Tulipa gesneriana.

The tulips in Brueghel’s painting ‘Flowers in a Blue Vase are either wild species or hybrids of wild species that belongs to the ‘Tulipmanum’ subgenera (coming from Turkey to Egypt).

The ‘wild species’ are  Tulipa stapfii (Kurdistanic tulp) Tulipa armena albescens (White tapered tulip), Tulipa armena alba (White tapered tulip)

The wild hybrids are Tulipa armena x t.praecox (Tapered tulip hybrid), Tulipa stapfii  x armena (Kurdistanic tulip hybrid), Tulipa stapfii x T. praecox (Kurdistanic tulip hybrid), Tulipa agenensis x T. stapfii (Red tulip)

November 2010

We contacted the Hortus Botanicus in Vienna, Leiden and Amsterdam respectively to try and find a source of the wild and hybrid species of tulips identified in the painting. Unfortunately it was already too late to plant the tulip bulbs (they need to be planted by September to endure the winter). However, the Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam did have the Tulipa stapfii already planted as part of an exhibition of wild tulips due in March-April.

April-May 2011

The unusually warm weather in early April caused the flowers to bloom much earlier than expected. This meant that the Tulipa stapfii intended for the destillation had already wilted before we could bring it to Vienna for the destillation.

As such, we had to resort to another source of tulips. But where? Given that the Tulipa gesneriana is the ancestor of all the cultivated varieties and also the wild and hybrid specimens in Brueghel’s painting, we decided to use cultivated tulip species.

We found an organic Tulip farmer in Zwaagdijk, the Netherlands, Frank Schouten. He grows tulips inside greenhouses and can therefore regulate the growth and bloom of tulips for a longer time span throughout the year. Most tulips are grown hydroponically and without the use of fertilisers and the usual residue of chemicals.

The type of tulips collected from Schouten tulip farm are from the Darwinhybrid group.

We matched tulip colours with the tulips appearing in Brueghels painting:

‘Ile de France’ a red tulip to substitute the red kurdistanic tulip)

‘Maureen’ a white slightly tapered tulip, to substitute the White tapered tulips

‘Pink lady’ Pink to substitute the Kurdistanic tulip hybrid

‘Georgette’ Pink, yellow-edged  to substitute the Kurdistanic tulip hybrid




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