In Grengiols in Valais there is a species of tulip that only exists there. In mid-May it blooms in three different colours. That’s why we wanted to answer some exciting questions about the Grengiols tulip in an interview with the ecologist and board member of the tulip guild Sabrina Gurten. by Marc Gottwald and Sabrina Gurten (pictures Sabrina Gurten)

We have them!

A wild type of tulip that only exists in Switzerland. An incredibly beautiful feeling when you then have the tulips in front of you in the heart of the Alps near Grengiols. They are therefore also on our list of magical places in Switzerland. At the moment, at the end of May, they are in full bloom. Therefore, there is no better time than an interview with animal and plant expert Sabrina Gurten. She is on the board of the tulip guild and also leads tours. We take you to an exclusive and exciting interview with her. [Myswisspanorama]: Hi Sabrina. Last week we were at the tulip fields of Grengiols. It was an impressive highlight. For Myswisspanorama readers who can’t go this year. When is the exact time when the tulips bloom? [Sabrina Gurten, Grengiols Tulip Guild]: When the tulips bloom depends on many environmental factors. You can’t really predict it to the exact day anyway. The only thing that is certain is that in May you can admire blooming tulips in Grengiols. We usually assume that the peak bloom is around mid-May. This year, however, the cool and wet spring pushed back the flowering of tulips, which is why the maximum number of flowering tulips is not expected until May 20th. We, the Grengiols Tulip Guild, are considering installing a kind of webcam so that in future you can always get an up-to-date picture of the condition of the inflorescences on the rye fields via the homepage. However, this project is still in the planning phase.
[MSP]: Why are the tulips only in Grengiols? How could this happen? [S.G.]: That’s a very good question. To this day, no one knows why they only exist in Grengiols. The tulip probably came to Grengiols in the Middle Ages via the trade routes from the south. That’s why they used to be called “Roman tulips”. It was not until 1945 that the Basel botanist Eduard Thommen recognized them as a separate species. It is therefore possible that it was still present in other places for a long time, but has died out locally, as it is often closely linked to traditional rye cultivation. There were also times in Grengiols when there were only about 20 individuals left before they were properly protected.

[Sabrina Gurten: As our former tulip master said so beautifully, the Grengjer tulip is obviously a real Valaisian: one with a hard “grind” that offers resistance.” ]

[MSP]: Is it possible that the tulip will be discovered elsewhere in the future? [S.G.]: Personally, I don’t think so. It is possible that closely related species will be found with today’s advanced analysis methods. But since the Tulipa grengiolensis has a very close relationship to the cultural landscape and is therefore (at least nowadays) a kind of cultural successor, it would probably hardly be overlooked elsewhere with its typical characteristics. In this regard, it would probably be more difficult with wild plant species. In addition, it is a real challenge to plant a Grengjer tulip bulb elsewhere. Even in botanical gardens in Bern, Basel and Geneva, where experts deal intensively with plants, breeding is more or less successful. As our former Tulip Master so beautifully put it: The Grengjer Tulip is obviously a real Valaisian: one with a hard “grind” that offers resistance.
[MSP]: In Törbel there is also a tulip field with wild tulips. What is the difference to these tulips? [S.G.]: The two species can be easily distinguished, be it by their habit (editor’s note: appearance), by the characteristics of the flowering structure, by the habitat (living space) and by the coloring. The Grengjer tulip comes in 3 different color variations, whereas the one in Törbel only comes in striped form. The Törbjer tulip is also a mountain plant and grows mainly on south-facing mountain meadows. It is therefore also found in other parts of the world, such as in Morocco, South Tyrol, Algeria, Spain and the Balkans. However, Tulipa grengiolensis is an endemic species, which means that it is unique in the whole world. One of the things they have in common is that they are both very difficult to cultivate.

[Sabrina Gurten: “Biodiversity means stability. If species disappear, the susceptibility to disturbances also increases.” ]

[MSP]: How difficult is it to propagate the tulips? [S.G.]: Very difficult! If a seed falls to the ground after pollination and fruit formation, this seed needs 7 years before it can germinate. So it takes a lot of time and patience. However, there is also a second method, namely vegetative propagation: If you have an onion that has a newly formed daughter bulb, it can be separated and planted. This separation of the daughter from the mother onion is actively promoted by tillage, i.e. plowing in rye cultivation.
[MSP]: We have learned that propagation is very difficult. What is being done to protect the tulips? [S.G.]: At the request of Pro Natura, an interest group was founded in 1996 with the clear intention of saving the tulip. The Tulip Guild still exists today. Our goal is still to keep the tulip active and to ensure its propagation and maintenance. We do this in the following form: Promote rye cultivation Protect tulips from wildlife Preventing pests in tulip fields (e.g. may beetles) Lessons close to nature in cooperation with the primary school Guided tours for interested nature lovers [MSP]: Will the Grengiols tulips die out with climate and landscape change? [S.G.]: In my opinion, the tulip tends to be endangered more by landscape change than by climate change – at least for the moment. And that is precisely because it is strongly linked to the cultural landscape and the agriculture associated with it. Like every element in this ecosystem, the Grengjer tulip is part of a valuable network that is characterized by a high structural and species diversity. In addition to richly structured hedges, small groups of trees, adjacent dry meadows and colorful flora accompanying the fields, you will find a large number of insects and reptiles on the so-called tulip hill. As is well known, biodiversity means stability. In concrete terms, this means that the more diverse a habitat is, the less susceptible it is to disturbances of any kind. If important links from this network are lost due to mismanagement or a change in landscape structure, biodiversity and consequently stability decrease. It takes years, if not decades, for a habitat that has been destroyed to rebuild its complexity. [MSP]: Thank you very much for the interview.