Tulipa kaufmanniana (Water Lily Tulip): History, Cultivars & Care

Tulipa kaufmanniana, commonly known as Kaufmann’s tulip or waterlily tulip, is a species of tulip native to the mountainous regions of Central Asia, particularly in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. It is named after the Russian botanist and explorer, Aleksandr Grigorievich Kaufmann.

In its native habitat, Tulipa kaufmanniana can be found in alpine meadows and rocky slopes. It’s well adapted to withstand harsh conditions, including cold winters and high altitudes.

Tulipa kaufmanniana is an early bloomer, flowering in late winter to early spring, depending on the climate. In colder regions, it may bloom as early as March, while in milder climates, it might flower in February. This early bloom makes it a valuable addition to gardens that need a burst of color after a long winter.

History of Tulipa kaufmanniana

Tulipa kaufmanniana was first discovered and named in the late 18th century by Russian botanist Aleksandr Grigorievich Kaufmann, after whom the species is named. Kaufmann was an avid plant collector and explorer, and he encountered this unique tulip species during his botanical expeditions in Central Asia.

After its discovery, Tulipa kaufmanniana found its way into cultivation, both in its native range and in gardens around the world. In Europe, these tulips were first introduced in 1877 by the Dutch firm of Van Tubergen.

The broader history of tulips is marked by the famous “Tulip Mania” in the Netherlands during the 17th century. Although Tulipa kaufmanniana was not specifically involved in this episode, it is part of the larger tulip family, which includes many other tulip species and hybrids. During Tulip Mania, tulip bulbs, including those of rare and unique varieties, became incredibly valuable commodities, with some bulbs fetching exorbitant prices. This period is a testament to the enduring allure of tulips.

Over time, horticulturists and botanists began to cultivate Tulipa kaufmanniana more extensively and experiment with hybridization to create new cultivars. This led to the development of various color variations and patterns within the species.

Today, Tulipa kaufmanniana remains a cherished spring-flowering bulb in gardens worldwide. It is valued not only for its aesthetic qualities but also for its role in attracting pollinators to gardens.

How does Tulipa kaufmanniana Look like?

Tulipa kaufmanniana is a small tulip species, it reaches a height of 6 to 10 inches (15-25 cm). The plant produces lance-shaped leaves that are green in color. These leaves emerge from the base of the stem and are often glaucous (bluish-green) in appearance.

Each flower has six petals that are wide and pointed. The petals are held horizontally, which gives the flower a flat, open appearance like a star similar to water lilies. They open very wide on sunny days. They usually have outermost petals with a different colour than interior petals.

The color of the petals can be in hues of red, orange, yellow, and white. The petals usually have markings at their base, which can be in the form of stripes, spots or blotches.

The petals may sometimes have a reflexed (bent backward) appearance. The flowers also have a pleasant fragrance. The stem of this tulip is relatively short, bearing a single flower per stem. The stems are sturdy and can support the open-faced flowers effectively.

Tulipa kaufmanniana is an early bloomer, often among the first tulips to flower in late winter to early spring. The exact timing of flowering depends on the local climate, with colder regions seeing blooms in March and milder regions experiencing them as early as February.

One of the attractive features of Tulipa kaufmanniana is its ability to naturalize. This means that, under the right conditions, it can multiply and come back year after year, forming a delightful carpet of blooms.

Best uses of Tulipa kaufmanniana

Early Spring Color

Planting Tulipa kaufmanniana in your garden is an excellent way to add a burst of color to your outdoor space in early spring. Their early blooming habit means they can provide a vibrant display of flowers when many other plants are still dormant.

Borders and Edging

Kaufmann’s tulips are relatively short in stature, making them ideal for creating borders and edging in flower beds and along walkways. Their compact size allows for neat and well-defined edges in garden designs.

Rock Gardens

These tulips are well-suited for rock gardens due to their small size and ability to naturalize. They can be planted among rocks and boulders to create a naturalistic and colorful display.

Containers and Pots

Tulipa kaufmanniana can be grown in containers and pots, either on their own or in combination with other spring-blooming bulbs or annuals. This allows you to enjoy their beauty on patios, balconies, or even indoors when they’re in bloom.


Use Kaufmann’s tulips as underplanting beneath deciduous trees and shrubs. When planted beneath trees that haven’t fully leafed out in early spring, the tulips will receive adequate sunlight and create a stunning contrast against the tree’s bark.

Naturalizing in Lawns

In regions where they are well-suited, you can naturalize Tulipa kaufmanniana in lawns or grassy areas. When planted in clusters or drifts, they create a meadow-like effect that’s especially appealing when they return year after year.


Tulips, including Tulipa kaufmanniana, are often associated with expressions of love and affection. They are considered a classic symbol of love and are commonly given as gifts on romantic occasions such as Valentine’s Day. The vibrant and colorful blooms of Tulipa kaufmanniana can convey feelings of admiration and passion.

Tulips, in general, are seen as symbols of spring and renewal. Their early spring blooms represent the awakening of nature after a long winter. Tulipa kaufmanniana’s early flowering time makes it an emblem of hope and new beginnings.

The unique and eye-catching appearance of Tulipa kaufmanniana, with its waterlily-like petals and vibrant colors, symbolizes beauty and elegance. These qualities make it a popular choice for adding aesthetic appeal to gardens and landscapes.

Tulips, including Tulipa kaufmanniana, are often associated with happiness and celebrations. They are used in floral arrangements for various joyous occasions, from weddings to birthdays, to bring a sense of delight and festivity.

In some cultures, tulips may hold specific symbolic meanings. For instance, in the Netherlands, tulips are closely associated with national pride and cultural heritage, representing the country’s rich history in tulip cultivation.

Beyond general symbolism, the meaning of Tulipa kaufmanniana or any flower can be highly personal. Some people may have unique associations with these flowers based on their own experiences and memories.

Cultivars of Tulipa Kaufmanniana

  • Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘Corona’: This cultivar has creamy white petals with a bright orange-yellow base on the inner petals.
  • Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘Early Harvest’: As the name suggests, this cultivar is one of the earliest to bloom. It features bright apricot flowers edged with yellow.
  • Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘Heart’s Delight’: ‘Heart’s Delight’ has pale pink petals, edged cream white on the outside, with a yellow base.
  • Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘Ancilla’: This cultivar has pure white petals with a slight pinkish tinge on the exterior. The inside of the flower has a yellow and red center.
  • Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘Johann Strauss’: ‘Johann Strauss’ has deep pink or magenta flowers with a contrasting yellow base on the inner petals.
  • Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘Stresa’: ‘Stresa’ features bright red-yellow flowers with a prominent yellow base.
  • Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘The First’: This cultivar has white petals with a yellow and red-orange heart.

How to Grow And Care Tulipa Kaufmanniana

Planting Time

The best time to plant Tulipa kaufmanniana bulbs is in the fall, ideally in September or October. This allows the bulbs to establish their roots before the onset of winter.


Choose a sunny to partially shaded location in your garden. These tulips thrive in well-drained soil. Avoid areas with standing water or heavy, waterlogged soil, as it can lead to bulb rot.

Soil Preparation

Prepare the soil by adding organic matter like compost to improve drainage and fertility. Sandy or loamy soils are ideal. Make sure the soil pH is slightly acidic to neutral (pH 6.0-7.0).

Planting Depth

Plant the bulbs at a depth of about 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm). Place them with the pointed end facing upwards.


Space the bulbs approximately 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) apart to allow for proper air circulation.


After planting, water the bulbs thoroughly to settle the soil and provide moisture for root development. Thereafter, water sparingly, as these tulips are susceptible to rot in overly wet conditions. Generally, they prefer moderate moisture.


Apply a layer of mulch, such as straw or shredded leaves, to protect the bulbs during the winter and help maintain soil moisture.


Incorporate a balanced, slow-release fertilizer into the soil during planting. Additional fertilization may not be necessary, as Tulipa kaufmanniana bulbs have enough nutrients stored for one season of flowering.


Deadhead the spent flowers to prevent seed formation. This redirects energy back to the bulb for future growth and flowering. Allow the foliage to die back naturally, as it also provides nutrients to the bulb for the next year.

Pests and Diseases

Keep an eye out for common tulip pests like aphids and bulb-munching rodents. Use appropriate pest control measures if necessary. – Tulipa kaufmanniana is generally less susceptible to diseases, but avoid overwatering to prevent bulb rot.

Dividing and Replanting

Every 3-5 years, you can dig up and divide the bulbs after the foliage has died back. Replant them in a new location or amend the existing soil with fresh compost before replanting.

Winter Care

In areas with severe winters, you may want to provide extra protection by covering the planting area with a layer of straw or leaves to insulate the bulbs from freezing temperatures.

Propagation of Tulipa kaufmanniana

Propagation of Tulipa kaufmanniana can be achieved through various methods, including seeds, offsets, and bulb division. Here are the details of each propagation method:

Propagation from Seeds

  • Tulipa kaufmanniana produces seeds after flowering. Allow the plant to naturally go through its blooming and seed-setting process. The seed pods will develop after the flowers fade and should be left to ripen on the plant. The pods will eventually turn brown and split open, revealing small seeds.
  • Once the seed pods are ripe, carefully collect the seeds. Be sure to store them in a dry, cool place until you are ready to sow them.
  • Plant the seeds in the late summer or early autumn, ideally within a few weeks of harvesting. Use well-draining soil and sow the seeds at a depth of about 2 inches (5 cm). Space the seeds a few inches apart to allow for growth.
  • Tulipa kaufmanniana seeds typically require a period of cold stratification to break dormancy. You can either sow them directly outdoors in a cold frame or refrigerate them for several weeks before sowing.
  • Water the seeds sparingly but consistently, ensuring the soil remains moist but not waterlogged. As the seedlings emerge, provide them with adequate sunlight. Once they reach a suitable size, you can transplant them to their final growing location.

Propagation from Offsets

  • Tulipa kaufmanniana bulbs often produce smaller bulbs, known as offsets, alongside the main bulb. These offsets can be carefully separated from the parent bulb when the plant is dormant, usually in late summer or early autumn.
  • Gently dig up the clump of bulbs and remove the offsets. Be sure to handle them delicately to avoid damaging the roots or bulb.
  • Plant the offsets at the same depth as the parent bulb, typically around 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm) deep. Space them apart according to your desired arrangement.
  • Water the newly planted offsets well to help them establish roots. Keep the area free of weeds and ensure they receive adequate sunlight.

Propagation from Bulb Division

  • Divide mature Tulipa kaufmanniana bulbs every few years when they become overcrowded or stop producing as many flowers.
  • Carefully dig up the clump of bulbs, taking care not to damage the bulbs or their roots.
  • Gently separate the bulbs from each other, ensuring that each division has a healthy root system and at least one growing point.
  • Plant the divisions at the same depth as the original bulbs, typically 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm) deep.
  • Water the newly divided bulbs well and continue to care for them as you would with established plants.