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The Black Tulips


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.

{ 13 comments… add one }

  • Sheila April 24, 2010, 7:49 pm

    Fascinating tales of the underworlds of tulips and the tell-tale signs that make them unique! Who knew?

  • Helen at Toronto Gardens April 24, 2010, 10:31 pm

    Lovely tulips, all. I like ‘Queen of the Night’ and have seen it planted to great effect here and there. It does seem to intensify when paired with something in a contrasting colour. ‘Silverado’ is a looker, and deserves hunting out.

    Black flowers seem to disappear in shade, though, don’t you think? (Although, if you have them under a pine tree, perhaps you *don’t* think so.) I’m judging this last point more from smaller flowers like Geranium phaem, though. The sunlight in some of your pictures makes the two dark tulips glow like wine cups.

  • catmint April 25, 2010, 4:25 am

    Hi Pomona, hope all is well with you. I enjoyed this post, you are a true tulipophile. the pics showing the flowers’ innards are amazing. Cheers, catmint

  • Nell Jean April 25, 2010, 7:40 am

    I do love to see tulips in detail on the blogs of others. I gave up tulips because of the prevalence of Tulip Fire and Voles. I made one last try last year to plant and chill tulips in pots. The dog ate them.

  • Pomona Belvedere April 25, 2010, 12:07 pm

    Sheila, glad you enjoyed the story of my obsession.

    Helen, I agree with you about black flowers in shade, but in my climate putting them in full sun would mean they have a much much shorter life. Part shade allows some of that nice sun and for the full black color to develop; in your climate, I’d go for full sun.

    Catmint, nice to hear from you. Yes, you outed me, I am a tulipophile verging on tulipomaniac.

    Nell Jean, so sorry about your tulips in pots! I do virtually all of my tulips in pots because gophers here love to munch them up. I do use a nontoxic spray against deer, but dogs!!! maybe some of those sprays they sell in pet stores, to keep animals off furniture?

  • Northern Shade April 25, 2010, 3:14 pm

    Both Queen of the Night and Paul Scherer look fabulous when backlit, with those dark petals and inner glow. I especially like the bouquet with Silverado.

  • Cheryl April 26, 2010, 6:10 am

    Beautiful! Nice post!

  • Cyd April 26, 2010, 7:26 am

    Looks like a wonderful glass of wine! One of my most favorite colors. I too have a hard time getting tulips to come back. I’m having the most sucess with the parrots this year. However since I am behind you a bit they are still green. I wish I had kept track of the names like you do. I know they are black and coral.

  • Rebecca @ In The Garden April 26, 2010, 7:37 am

    Beautiful post Pomona, both black tulips are stunning. I especially like the picture of the green flower bud opening to black. I am quite taken with black flowers, they are so rare & mysterious. I planted a black supersition iris last year and plan to add the Dianthus ‘King of Blacks’ this year, if I can find it. Thank you for your offer of blub help on my blog, I replied in my comments section. :)

  • Pomona Belvedere April 26, 2010, 11:49 am

    Cheryl, glad you enjoyed it.

    Cyd, black and coral sounds beautiful. I’d have to look that up. My parrot tulips are actually still green, too – they’re the last to come out, and we’ve had a cold spring. All good, it prolongs the show!

    Rebecca, another black-flower lover! Your selections sound excellent.

  • Daffodil Planter April 27, 2010, 10:07 pm

    Has anyone ever looked at a tulip catalog and NOT wanted to buy ‘Queen of the Night’? Good to know she has a consort.

  • na May 13, 2010, 7:12 pm

    Hi Pomona,
    I love “Queen of Night”. I prefer Queen of Night with hosta.
    That contrast is nice.

  • Rebecca @ In The Garden June 26, 2010, 1:45 pm

    I thought of this post today, when I added a picture of my black iris to my latest blog post. I wonder what is it about black flowers that makes them so intriguing? Your viridiflora tulips are lovely too, I had some this year and quite like them. I didn’t expect their shape to be so twisted and different, but they certainly stand out. :)

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