Paul Scherer, with his black heart open to the sun
Queen of the Night, ditto
I got ‘Paul Scherer’ because I love the deep, the black, and the mysterious, and I want as much of it in my garden as possible. I was also curious to see how it compared with ‘Queen of the Night’. Pretty closely, as it turns out.
The white bloom on the buds and very new flowers of Queen of the Night
is pretty closely echoed by Paul Scherer in a similar stage.
At first, I thought Paul Scherer had a more mahogany-red tint than Queen of the Night’s plum overtones. But look at them both here: can’t make much of a case for that:
Queen of the Night has a distinct mahogany tint in sun
as does Paul Scherer
Then I thought that Paul Scherer was maybe a little more matte than Queen of the Night, a touch less shine to the petals. Maybe. But as Paul Scherer aged, it became harder and harder to tell them apart. Same purple-black anthers (before pollination). Same shiny creamy-white stigma and style. Even the blue-black-hint-of-white markings at the base of the flower are similar.
Queen of the Night. The split stigma happens after pollination. Since the pollen is still dark, that means the deed has just been done.
Paul Scherer, in a slightly earlier stage.
Every time I shot a picture, I made sure to shoot the label of the plant first, so I could tell which was which when I went through the photos. (Shooting labels is my shorthand for having a photographer’s notebook. This could be a Handy Tip for you. I don’t use it very consistently, but for botanical gardens and indistinguishable sprouts, or these two tulips, it’s ideal.)
I got Queen of the Night because – because it just always seems weird, the years I don’t order her, and I haven’t gotten enough of a return bloom from her to live on that alone. (Perennializing tulips is one of my not-always-successful hobbies.) I love her deepness, her blackness, her unadorned and unashamed drama.
The only difference was that Queen of the Night emerged a few days to a week later than Paul Scherer, at least this year. Which might mean that when Paul Scherer settles in, he will be fading as she comes out. Officially, they are both single late tulips, and unofficially, this is a very screwy year for order of bulb bloom, so it seems likely that they’ll bloom at the same time next year, if I get them to come back.
I did the Ultimate Observation test: I cut one of each tulip and put them in a vase I pass many times a day. If you want to see a flower develop up close, this is a good way to do it. But if you want the color to be the same as it would have been outdoors, you must wait until the tulip has been open a day or two. Color develops last in the tulip bud, and the sun seems to have a role in developing or at least stabilizing it. If you cut them a day or two after they’ve opened, you get less vase time, but more accurate viewing.
So that’s what I did, and you know what? Even up close and personal, the only way I could tell the difference was that I’d left a leaf on Paul Scherer, and cleaned off the stem of Queen of the Night. I was glad I’d done that, actually.
I’ve read rumors, supposedly kept darkly secret, that any tulip that is too popular for too long develops a virus. * Queen of the Night has been around since about 1940, and has been deservedly popular all that time. So the industry is worried that it will develop a virus which will inevitably rush through all the cloned crop, just the way potatoes wilted by the thousands in Ireland. All of them exactly the same stock of potato.
Maybe Paul Scherer has been developed to step in in just such an emergency, and that is why he is so nearly like Queen of the Night. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – and the best safeguard to a continuing buying audience. Movie moguls understand this, clearly.
If you’re not involved in the murky underworld of tulip marketing, it’s hard not to innocently enjoy more of what you love already. Tulips can’t have the creativity squeezed out of them the way movies can. We tend to think we’re very powerful, but we’re not strong enough to eradicate this flower’s personality, and its personality is just why we like it. As for these tulips, I like – no, I’m not ashamed to say it, I love – both of them. I don’t know which personality is which, and I don’t care.
So I enjoyed my double harvest, my two black tulips, and I enjoyed them even more because some of the colored ones I’d planted to bloom with them never showed up, or didn’t set them off the way I’d hoped, so that I had a sea of darkly luminous tulip heads under the Ponderosa pine. A srange sight to some, but wonderful to me.
Can you tell which is which here? I can’t
Besides enjoying Queen of the Night and Paul Scherer together, I found a third flower which is their perfect foil: pale pale blush tulip ‘Silverado’. I only found it out because I had a few of each left in the garden, so I put them in a vase together. It was too late in their lives to document the beautiful bonding, but there was something blue in each of the shades that set each other off perfectly. I’m going to let them spend more time together next year, and see what develops.
Silverado, Queen of the Night, and Paul Scherer. I can only identify Silverado for sure.
*I think this may apply to humans, too.