Kazakhstan may not yet be on everyone's wish list, but for amateur botanists in search of the world's exotic wildflowers, exploring its dramatic landscape on organised flower tours can be a revelation. The wide-open spaces, grassy steppes and rugged mountain ranges support an abundance of floral diversity, with a range of more than 6,000 endemic and introduced floral species. For those contemplating any of the excellent organised flower tours on offer, Kazakhstan may be a surprise addition to the list of possibilities. |
A Unique Environment
Kazakhstan is a huge country in the middle of Central Asia, but it has a surprisingly low population density - with many remote areas rarely visited by outsiders. Vast deserts, inland lakes and unforested grasslands occupy much of its topography, but along the south-eastern border (also running through China and Kyrgyzstan) the ruggedly beautiful Tien Shan Mountains are home to alpine meadows and lush, dense forests. The area is popular on the itinerary of dedicated flower tours due to the high number of floral blooms, including around 36 species of tulips - some of which are endangered.
The Tulip Fields of Kazakhstan
Despite them being inextricably linked to Holland, Central Asia is widely believed to be the birthplace of wild tulips, and even to this day botanists are still finding new species thriving in the rich soil and temperate micro-climate. It was the Ottomans who brought them to Holland in the 17th century, and it's believed that around 75% of all cultivated tulips in the world descend from the two most common species found in Kazakhstan: Greig's, Tulipa greigii, and Kaufmann's, Tulipa kaufmanniana.
Also known as the Queen Tulip, Greig's comes in both red and yellow varieties, as well as hybrids that are a combination of the two. They bloom on southerly slopes in dry, sunny conditions. The flower was named after a past president of the Russian Society of Horticulturalists, Samuel Greig.
Thriving on rocky, north facing slopes, Kaufmann's has smaller white or yellow blossoms and looks quite similar to a water lily when it's in full bloom, as it opens out almost horizontally. It is named after a past governor general of Turkestan.
Schrenk's (Tulipa schrenkii) is another species that has been instrumental in the establishment of the world's cultivated tulips. It blooms in a range of colours - red, pink, yellow and white, with some a mixture of two colours.
Along with Greig's, Kaufmann's and Schrenk's, other species that may be seen on flower tours in Kazakhstan include Tulipa Zinaidae (endemic to Kirghiz Alatau), T. albertii, T. busheana, T. behmiana, T. lehmanniana, Tulipa Iliensis, Tulipa buhseana and Tulipa tetraphylla.
With the growing interest for eco-tourism in Kazakhstan, ornithologists and botanists warn that care should be taken to respect and preserve the delicate eco-system. They estimate it takes around 7 -10 years to for a bulb to flower again if a wild tulip is picked, so visitors are encourage to enjoy the majesty and abundance of the landscape, but to tread lightly.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in wildflowers. As a passionate lover of botany, Marissa chooses the expert-led flower tours organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable encounters with a wide range of plant species in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.
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