Tulip Bulbs: A Survival Tale
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Native of the High Steppes
Close your eyes and let's go back nearly two thousand years. The earliest tulips grew wild then — without any help from humans. They were native to the high steppes (grasslands) and mountains of Asia. Their annual life cycle today reflects how they survived conditions where they developed thousands of years ago. Imagine you are a bulb of one of those tulip plants. The summers are very hot and dry and the winters are harsh and cold. How might you survive? What challenges would you face?

Where Did I Come From?
The map shows where in the world you came from. You are buried at 46 degrees north latitude. Draw an imaginary line across the map. Which states or provinces share the same latitude?
You are in the mountains. It can get to 40 degrees below zero there. Most of the water is frozen.

Adapting to the Climate
What would happen if you came out of the ground during the winter? Plants that did that didn't live. Your ancestors survived because they poked out when conditions were right. Now you naturally do the same. In fact, you need at least two months of cold underground temperatures before you'll pop out of the ground.

Surviving Spring Snows
Spring is coming. The days are longer each day. The sun feels stronger, too. The snow melts and trickles down to your roots. You push your leaves up out of the soil. It may snow again but your leaves can survive it. (After all, your ancestors developed in this climate.) The bud that will become your flower grows more slowly. Can you find the bud? How do you protect it?

Physical Adaptations
Look closely at the leaves. What do you notice that might help you survive the coming hot, dry summer? Your leaves have a waxy coating. This keeps them from losing water from inside. It also protects them from "sunburn" and diseases. What do you notice about the shape of the leaves? How might they help you get what you need to survive?
Insects are attracted to the color and sweet nectar of your flower. As they touch the dusty pollen, they bring it to new flowers without even knowing it. This helps you make seeds. It takes 4 to 7 years to go from a seed to a flowering size bulb!

Underground Package
As summer nears, it is getting hotter and drier. How will you survive? First your flower dies back. There isn't much water available, so your roots dry up. Your outer skin gets tough. Without any water, your leaves can't make food, so they die back, too. But before they do, they send the rest of the food energy they made down to an underground bulb — and to new baby bulbs (bulblets).Now here you are: a little underground package ready to rest (go dormant) until you have what you need to grow. Good thing too, because winter is coming!

Activity Underground
In the fall, the soil gets colder. People think you are resting underground. But something new is happening . . . slowly. If we dug you up, here's what we'd see.
You have been through this cycle before. You naturally use your stored energy (and some moisture in the soil) to start growing roots again. After all, spring would come once more. This is how you spend the winter.

The Cycle Continues
As water and warmth return in the spring, you use the rest of your energy to push leaves up out of the soil. Your flower bud follows . . . and the cycle begins all over!