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Tulip Garden Update: January 15, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

Garden Grand Total

A Grand Total of 308 Gardens

All gardens are planted at last, and the grand total is now 308! Thanks for all your hard work. This promises to be an exciting study of spring. Here are all new gardens reported since our December report:

Now when do you suppose the first tulips will emerge---and whose will they be.....?

Too Many Tulips?
No such thing! But if younger students are overwhelmed with tulip data, follow the suggestion of 1st grade teacher Patti Prieves:

"As the first reports come in, we choose 5-10 places to record on our class map. We choose another 5-10 each time we receive a new report. Throughout the spring, we keep track of when tulips in these gardens emerge and when they bloom. The map becomes an important, ongoing fixture in the room or hallway."

As spring progresses, watch for regular suggestions for analyzing data at all grade levels.

Which Comes First? The Tulip or the Tree's Leaves?
Do tulips emerge from the ground before the leaves come out on the trees in the spring? Or do the leaves come first? Which bloom first, tulips or trees?

Journey North's Leaf-Out Study

Photo: Jim Gilbert

We hope you'll help us measure spring's northward journey by reporting when leaves emerge on your trees. Here's how:

  1. Adopt a local tree and learn its name. Try to find one of the species below, though any species will do.
  2. Plan to visit your adopted tree on a regular basis, beginning in the dead of winter. Sketch the same buds on the same small branch each time you visit. Watch the buds open, the tree bloom and the leaves emerge.
  3. Predict whether your tulips or your trees will progress through each growing stage first.
  4. When the leaves on your trees are the size of a U.S. (or Canadian) quarter, report to Journey North. That's our definition of "leaf-out".
    Maps courtesy of:
    Macalester College Geography Department

    Sugar Maple

    Please report to Journey North when leaves on trees of any of these 4 species emerge.

    Our definition of "leaf-out"?

    Flowering Dogwood


    When leaves are the size of a U.S. (or Canadian) quarter.

    Quaking Aspen

Discussion of Challenge Question #4
Warm Fall's Affect on Tulips

It was as warm as spring when we wrote last December, so why weren't the tulips emerging and blooming yet? (You're welcome to dig up a bulb or two and tell us what's happening underground!, we suggested.)

Collins High School students in Collins, Mississippi say the time period was not long enough to prompt blooming. (mpeters@netdoor.com)

"We think they have to have a certain amount of warm days after being cold to wake them up, and it hasn't been cold yet!", says Mrs. Kloewer's 7th grade class in York, Nebraska. "We figure that is why classes in warm places have to put them in the refrigerator. We think it is the spring warm time that will decide when they bloom. But how cold does it have to get? We want to know what will happen if it doesn't get that cold!"

Good question! We contacted the tulip expert Kim Tyson at Netherland Bulbs and asked.

"Tulips need to go through a cooling cycle in order to bloom. This is why people in the warm regions must pre-cool their bulbs prior to planting--or they will not get any blooms. However, we have heard of bulbs EMERGING due to this warm fall. We have had several calls that bulbs planted in early September are reaching above the soil."

Mary Meyer of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum agrees: "It is somewhat common for the green leaf tips to emerge in the fall, especially in warmer climates, but no flowers come then. Sometimes the minor (small) bulbs, like grape hyacinth, may flower in a mild fall, but a tulip would not flower until the chilling requirement is met."

What's going on underground?
Fourth and fifth graders in Henrietta, NY tried to find out:

"We dug two holes and did not find any tulip bulbs. We know from the sign that is there that our garden is there, but we did not mark the spots where the tulip bulbs are, so we can't answer the question about what the bulb looks like in the winter." (Mnabut@rhnet.org)

Mary Meyer explains what's happening to your bulbs now: "If students do dig up a bulb, they should find good root formation. The tulips create their root base from the time they are planted until the ground freezes. And the better the root system, the bigger and better the flower will be next spring. Cutting open a bulb longitudinally would show small, yellow leaf tissue and perhaps a small flower bud. As long as the tissue is white, or pale yellow, it is healthy and growing. Signs of brown or black tissue are an indication of problems and that some death of cells/tissue has occurred. This may happen if the bulb was frozen (or exposed to ethylene gas).

Kim Tyson describes how freezing might affect bulbs that emerged early: "Each situation is a little different depending on the geographic location; in the northern regions, it is of course more critical than in the middle or southern states (because it gets so much colder there). The end results can be a wide spectrum from the bulbs rotting after freezing and thawing, to ratty looking blooms and foliage from frost damage, to stunted or no blooms at all. The damage depends on how much of the foliage protrudes above the soil line."

Try This!
While waiting for spring, you can investigate how buds, roots, stems and even flowers grow by planting bulbs indoors. Link to Lesson:

Challenge Question #5
"How could you experiment with indoor bulbs, so that their roots grow to different sizes? Do you think flowers with different sized roots will grow faster, as well as being bigger?" (If you conduct an experiment, be sure to tell us how flower growth compares to root growth.)

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question

  1. Address an e-mail message to: jn-challenge-tulip@learner.org
  2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question # 5
  3. In the body of the message, answer the question above.

The Next Tulip Garden Update Will be Posted on February 12, 1999.

Copyright 1999 Journey North. All Rights Reserved. Please send all questions, comments, and suggestions to our feedback form

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