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Discovery Central Asia #23
Discovery Central Asia

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2008 2007


Text by Svetlana Alekhina

Spring is usually associated with tulips. Bright yellow, red, pink and orange colors please the eye that has become weary of dull grey, brown and white colors of winter. Despite the fact that these flowers are associated with the Netherlands, they come from Persia, their name originates from the flower shape which means “turban”. There are hundreds of varieties of tulips united in groups by the shape of the flower, height and time of blooming.

In spring, the country side becomes beautiful and looks like a giant orchard. The snow-white stars of snowdrops cover the steppe, changing to carpets of tulips all over hills and mountain slopes. And very few of us are aware that the Graig’s tulip owes its popularity to the Netherlands that has become the country of industrialized cultivation of cultured tulip varieties. In the 17th century, one could buy a house or even a large mansion just for a tulip bulb. A rare bulb of a beautiful tulip could buy its owner an unbelievable amount of wheat, rye, livestock, clothes and other wealth.

Nowadays, Southern Kazakhstan and Central Asia are the major habitats for wild Asian tulips. 83 kinds of tulips grow on this territory. For comparison, in the whole world there are 100 to 120 kinds, and among them, the Graig’s tulip holds the leading position. It is rightfully called the king of tulips. Its bluish-gray leaves are decorated with dark cherry-red gleams, and its flowers are bright red. Sometimes violet and primrose flowers may be found too. In the late 20th century its was awarded the No 1 Variety Diploma in the Netherlands.. At present, it is the progenitor of more than 200 varieties of tulips.

“We never care for what we have”, as they say: due to human activities, mainly plowing, but also wild plants harvesting, wild tulips have become considerably rare these days. But they still are available and protected in Aksu-Jabagly Reserve. In late April, the mountains of this wonderful place become beautiful beyond any imagination with hundreds of thousands of tulips, looking like splashes of fresh bright colors over emerald mountain slopes.

The artificially cultivated and bred varieties started their triumphal march in Turkey, in the gardens of Constantinople. Austrian ambassador Ogir de Busbec first saw them back in 1550. He took an interest in cultivation of those greenhouse wonders and included this matter in his report to Vienna.

Konrad Gessner, a Swiss scientist who described fifty tulip varieties and Karolus Klussius, the manager of the medical herbs garden of the Emperor Maximilian II, got acquainted with tulips in a similar way. And it was Klussius who received a proposal from the Netherlands to take care of the garden of medical herbs at Leiden University, and left Vienna with a collection of tulip seeds and bulbs.

The gardeners of the Netherlands started actively cultivating these flowers. Klusius’ garden became the target of thief attacks and its wonderful inhabitants were forcibly taken to Venice and Prague, but tulip cultivation there could never surpass one in Netherlands.

A real “tulipmania” embraced the Netherlands. Bulbs were weighed on pharmaceutical scales, “aas” being accepted as the unit of weight which made around 0.065 grams. Bookkeeping records kept in archives bring us the evidence of values of rare bulbs. For instance, a buyer paid for a single “Viceroy” variety  bulb two cartloads of wheat, four cartloads of rye, eight pigs, twelve sheep, five hundred liters of wine, four barrels of beer, two kegs of oil, a thousand pounds of cheese, a canopied bed and a set of bed linen, a piece of fabric and a silver cup – a value of 2,500 florins. Compare this to 4600 florins, plus a pair of horses and a carriage, once paid for a 20-gram bulb of “Semper augustus”.

However, the “tulipmania” was gone as fast as it came. The market dot overloaded, and buyers were no more willing to pay a fortune for “The Black Devil” or “The Smile of the Princess” disappeared. Many families went broke: their properties were invested in tulips which were now impossible to sell even at the twentieth fraction of the yesterdays’ price. The public notaries closed down their branches at Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Harlem Flower Exchanges. The tulip craze was gone, and people began coming back to their daily businesses, often after loosing their workshops and tools exchanged for small bags with tulip bulbs. But the mystical will for cultivation of flowers remained with the Dutch even after the end of this “epidemic”. Thousands of hectares of the dried bottom of the Harlem Lake were given to bulbs of tulip, daffodils, crocuses and hyacinths.

The Graig’s tulip, the progenitor of the class, are considered to be the most beautiful in the world, as well as the natural hybrids and cross-breeds between the tulips of Graig, Kaufmann, Foster and other varieties. They are remarkable for early flowering, mottles on their leaves, large bright flowers, with slight outward bends of blunt perianth leaflets. The tulips of this class are multi-purpose.

The Graig’s tulip pertains to the linear family. This perennial plant is 20 to 40 cm high. The bulb is oval or roundish, has leathery, brown peel. The leaves are bluish gray, slightly wavy at edges, on topside they have dark-violet spots. The flower is single, cup-shaped, orange-red, dark-red, yellow or cream. The flower is yellow in the middle with oval black spots. It blooms in April- May, fructifies in June-July. It grows on pebbly and loamy steppe hill slopes. A sharp drop in plant population of this type has been noticed due to land cultivation, grazing, mass-scale plucking of flowers and bulbs by the local population.

The tulips are grouped by two generally accepted signs: the period of blooming and flower height. By the blooming period, the tulips are divided into early (bloomin starting in early May), middle (in mid-May) and late-blooming (in late May), and by height into low (up to 20 cm), medium (20 to 45 cm) and tall (over 45 cm). These factors are being considered while planning the garden and planting the bulbs to create beautiful views and extend the blooming period. The perennial plant reproduces by bulbs and ratoons. Bulbs are planted in autumn, when soil temperature drops to +10º C; the planting depth is 10-12 cm. The recommended interval between the plants is 15 to 25 cm. In summer, after the leaves shrivel, the bulbs are dug out and dried, sorted out by size and stored until mid-august at +25º C, then at 15-17º some period prior to planting. Standard early varieties: there are many varieties of these tender early flowering flowers. Most of early varieties are 10 to 25 cm high. “Imperial Tulips” are big and majestic – this term has been chosen  to describe clearly colored flowers. They bloom first among big-flowered tulips. The “Triumph” tulips are big, up to 5 cm in flower diameter and grow to 50 cm in height. “Darwin’s Hybrid” tulips are big, classic tulips, they grow up to 60 cm in height and are especially stable against wind and rains due to their more rigid pedicle. “Tassle-lke” tulips have petals with needle-like growths at their top edges, which give these tulips quite an eccentric shape. “Double tulips” are varieties of peony-like, double flowers up to 45 cm high. “Lily-colored” tulips have slender, long-shaped flower cups, in most cases  45 cm to 55 cm high. “Parrot” tulips are made specially attractive by serrated edges of their petals. They grow up to 55 cm in height.

Dismiss the idea of planting tulips in rows. They look better if planted in small groups of 5 to 10 plants or flower clusters of 20 bulbs and more. You may make up your own composition and plant them in a separate clusters or place clusters of flowers of matching colors nearby each other. Choose varieties with different blooming phases to extend the blooming period.

Every time the warm period of the year starts, city residents often go to a countryside to pick mushrooms or flowers. The Society of Environment Protection reminds of a need to be attentive and accurate, not to pull beautiful flowers by the roots, because you may damage the bulbs. Enjoy the beauty of our motherland, take care of it and be proud of it.

The Sayram/Ugam National Park
Three settlements of Ugam, Kaskasu, Lenger and Dihankol, are located in the Kaskasu River valley and are surrounded by the majestic mountains of the Sayram/Ugam National Nature Park. This is an ideal starting point to discover the mountains of the West Tyanshan Range and their rich flora and fauna.

More than 1,250 species of plants grow in the Park, of which 47 are included in The Red Book of Kazakhstan. The fauna of the Sayram/Ugam National park is rich and diverse, and the local mammals: snow leopards, white-paw Tyanshan bears, Menzbira’s marmots, lynxes and teks (mountain goats).There are also rare species of birds of prey, such as golden eagle, peregrine, bearded vulture.

Comfortable guest-houses are located near the National park which offer warm hospitality and are always available for guests. While staying in the guest-houses, the tourists can fully immerse into the local life and traditions of South Kazakhastan, as well as enjoy the natural beauties and historic memorials of the medieval culture along the centre of the Great Silk Road.

The Aksu/Jabagly National Park
Established in 1926, the Aksu/Jabagly National park is located in the South-Kazakhstan region, and is the first such reserve in Central Asia and Kazakhstan. It includes a part of the Talas Alatau Range of the West Tyanshan, with total area of 850 sq. km. Altitudes start at 1,100 meters at Jabagly Village and exceed 4,200 meters (The Peak of Sayram) above sea level.

The flora of the Reserve includes 1,270 species, of which 57 are in the Red Book of Kazakhstan. The famous Dutch tulips originated from the species growing here(such as the Graig’s Tulip).

51 mammal species inhabit this area. Among these are snow leopard, Tyanshan white-paw bear, lynx, tek (mountain goat), mouflon (mountain sheep) and Menziber’s marmot. Among those in The Red Book are golden eagle, Eurasian eagle owl and Himalayan griffon. The Aksu-Jabagly National park in the future will become a part of the cross-border biosphere reserve, spanning onto territories of Kyghyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Discovery Central Asia #21


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