A little background story to a plant can add interest and the lead often comes from the botanical name. Sometimes the names are simply descriptive: Geranium sanguineum, Bloody Cranesbill, because of the red colour of the foliage in autumn and some say because of the magenta flowers. Caltha palustris, Marsh marigold, because it grows in wet areas, marshes. Other times the specific name can refer to a place of a person: In Berberis valdiviana, for example, the “valdiviana” refers to the Valdivia Province of Chile where it grow naturally. People are regularly remembered in plant names; Iris forrestii recalls George Forrest a Scottish planthunter who travelled and collected extensively in China and it is the flowering of a tulip in the garden at present which has prompted me to wonder about the origins of its name. This is Tulipa sprengeri so I reckoned there was a “Sprenger” somewhere who gave his/her name to the plant.
Tulipa sprengeri is native to Pontus on the northern areas of Turkey which has a coastline on the Black Sea and was introduced to Europe by the German gardener Mühlendorff in 1892 who discovered it near Amasya. It proved to be an enormously popular plant which, unfortunately, lead to widespread collection of bulbs from the wild so that it became extinct thought there have been recent reports of a finding of some in the wild – two found in 2019. Fortunately, it is a popular garden plant, grown by amateurs and many botanic gardens and there is a project in hand to reintroduce it to the wild again. It is easily grown from seed and quick to reach flowering size, about four years. It is perfectly perennial in the garden and hardy to -10C, at least.
The tulip was named after Carl Ludwig Sprenger (1846 – 1917), a German botanist and commercial gardener who lived in Naples from 1877 to 1907 and was a partner in the horticultural business of Dammann & Co. which, as a side note, had much of its stock destroyed by volcanic ash following the eruption of Vesuvius on the 4th of April 1906. Sprenger also had an asparagus and a magnolia named for him – Asparagus sprengeri and Magnolia sprengeri. Commercially, Sprenger developed a long list of canna varieties and also some Yucca cultivars.
I grew my bulbs from seed received from the Alpine Garden Society some years back and it has now increased to two patches in the garden, each of approximately 100 bulbs. It continues to self-seed and spread about. It is noticeable that it is a much taller plant, 50 – 60cm, in good conditions but much smaller, less that 30cm, where it is grown under a group of hornbeams, Carpinus betilifolius, as the ground there is much drier. It is a plant I would never wish to be without as I love its colour and elegance and its will to grow with ease. A little background information also adds to the interest.