Although it’s a graceful wildflower with a long history in gardens, the Florentine tulip (T. sylvestris) is also a bit weedy, spreading by underground stolons to produce new plants that can take years to bloom. Two articles in the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society newsletter gave me a deeper appreciation for both its history and its vigor.
Linda Chapman explains that the Florentine is “a tetraploid (having double the number of chromosomes) which may account for its vigor. It is not native to the UK but is naturalized here, though how it arrived is not known. It could have come with the Romans” or much later with “Flemish, Walloon, or French refugees from 1540 onwards.”
When Linda went searching for Florentines where they’d been reported in the past, she found almost none – until she visited a protected “Site of Special Scientific Interest” in Yorkshire. There along the banks of the River Nidd “there were tulips as far as we could see, literally hundreds of them. It was a truly remarkable sight.”
In a second article, Anita Irehoim writes about the Florentine in Sweden. “Olof Rudbeck the Elder (1630-1702) established the first botanical garden in Sweden at Uppsala and grew the ‘yellow tulip from Bologna’” – an early name for the Florentine tulip. (Florence and Bologna are 50 miles apart.) By 1744 it was naturalized in Sweden, and today it’s still found “especially in grass areas in old gardens and parks but also in forest edges and along [roadside] verges.” Anita says “the best way of getting flowers is to disturb the soil. Dig and turn the soil upside down! It makes some sense since it is . . . a weed of the vineyards.”
Olof Rudbeck’s son was also a botanist, and “one of his best known students was Carl Linnaeus, the man who devised our system of plant nomenclature.” Today Linnaeus’s summer house is a museum and “sanctuary for surviving Linnaean plants. Of the 900 varieties he may have had in the garden, only about 40 remain today – one of which is T. sylvestris.”