Heirloom species are 50 years or older, and hundreds of heirloom bulbs have been cultivated since the 13th century and before. They're good garden plants, very adaptable and hardy. There are lots of species available, from amaryllis to gladiolus. They frequently possess unusual appearance and fragrance. Heirloom bulbs offer history, including the history of each variety. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden speaks of these species as endangered. Ultimately, these flowers are part of our planet's genetic diversity and should be preserved by growing them.
Native from Spain to Afghanistan, the many varieties of crocus bloom earlier in the spring than most other bulbs. This flower has been cultivated in European gardens since the 1500s. The flowers bloom in colors that range through lilac, mauve, yellow and white. Plant crocus in the fall, for spring bloom.
The native range of tulips spans southern Europe, north Africa, and Asia. They were brought from Turkey in the 1500s and quickly became favorites in the Netherlands. Some are fragrant, and they occur in colors ranging from white and pastel pinks and yellows to deep reds and oranges, even browns. Plant your tulips in the fall, for flowers in the spring.
Cannas are native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, from the southern United States to northern Argentina. Bananas and ginger are among their closest living relatives. The first cannas were introduced to Europe in the late 1500s by explorers. They are distinctly tropical in appearance and come in variations of yellow, orange, red and pink. Plant cannas in the spring; they will bloom in late spring and all summer.
Irises are native from Europe to Nepal; they were even carved on the walls of Egyptian temples. Iris began to be noticed in Europe in the mid-1800s, and French, British and American breeders quickly developed many new varieties. By the 1920s, iris ranked as one of the top three American perennials. The large, showy flowers come in combinations of white, yellow, blue and purple. Plant iris in the spring, for bloom all summer.
Heirloom bulbs come in countless other species and varieties. Among them is the tuberose. The Aztecs held the flowers of the tuberose sacred to their goddess of art, beauty, and love. By 1730 these delicate, white and pink blooms were growing in Williamsburg, Virginia. Known especially for their strong and lovely fragrance, these flowers can be grown as garden perennials in milder North American climate zones. Plant tuberose in the spring and you will have late summer flowers.