The Siam tulip (Curcuma petiolate) goes by many names: some call it the queen lily or hidden lily, while others call it hidden cone ginger or the Jewel of Thailand. No matter what name you use, this stunning plant stands out in the landscape or when given as a gift. Native to tropical southeast Asia, these lovely plants are prized for their gorgeous flowers, lush foliage, and intriguing fragrance. In this guide, I’ll run through everything you need to know about Siam Tulip meaning, its uses, growing tips, and suitable gifting occasions.
- Siam Tulips – The Essentials:
- About Siam Tulips (Curcuma petiolata)
- The Meaning of Siam Tulips
- The Symbolism of Siam Tulips
- Uses and Benefits of Siam Tulips
- How to Grow Siam Tulips
- Caring for Siam Tulips
- Best Companion Plants for Siam Tulips
- Creative Uses for Siam Tulips
- Siam Tulip FAQs:
- The Siam Tulip – Wrapping Up
Siam Tulips – The Essentials:
|Scientific Name:||Curcuma petiolata|
|Native Range:||Thailand, Southeast Asia|
|Colors:||Shades of pink, purple, and white|
|Characteristics:||Herbaceous perennial with tropical foliage and showy flowers|
|Mature Height:||2 to 3 feet (60 to 90 cm)|
|Flowering Season:||Late spring to early summer|
|Growing Zones:||8 to 11|
|Sunlight:||Partial shade to full sun|
|Watering:||Moderate water requirements|
|Soil:||Well-draining, fertile soil|
|Fertilizing:||Regular feeding during the growing season|
|Pruning:||Remove spent flowers and trim back foliage in late fall|
|Symbolism:||Elegance, beauty, and exotic charm|
About Siam Tulips (Curcuma petiolata)
Siam tulips belong to the Curcuma genus, a group of plants that grow in tropical regions. The genus contains several notable species with edible rhizomes that can be dried, pounded, and used to make flavorful spices. For instance, C. longa is the source of turmeric, an ingredient in many curry blends.
Curcuma is a Zingaberaceae or ginger family member, which contains about 1,600 species across 50 or so genera. This family’s well-known edible, aromatic plants in this family include ginger, cardamon, and galangal.
C. petiola grows from one to three feet tall. It has long, green leaves — much like canna lily foliage — that grow to 10 inches long and six inches wide.
In early summer, the Siam tulip blooms with six-inch-long inflorescences of yellow, pink, white, or purple flowers. The flowers are circled on top by purple bracts, with green bracts on the bottom.
The plants are native to Malaysia, Thailand, Java, and Laos. They’re grown in tropical and subtropical gardens all around the world.
C. petiolata is available in several varieties, such as:
- ‘Emperor,” which has variegated leaves edged with white
- ‘Garnet’ which has bright yellow blooms with red bracts
- ‘Jewel of Burma’ has warm, orange flowers
- ‘Jewel of Thailand’ blooms rise higher above the foliage
The Meaning of Siam Tulips
The Siam tulip belongs to the Curcuma genus, which is named after the Latin of the Arabic word for saffron, or kurkum. Many plants in this genus have aromatic, flavorful rhizomes that can be dried and ground to make spice.
The species name, petiola, is related to the Latin for foot, petiolus. “Petiole” refers to the stalk of the plant.
Members of the Curcuma family have long been prized in their native regions. In Southeastern Asia and now around the globe, the plants’ flavorful rhizomes have many edible and medicinal uses. For instance, the Siam tulip’s relative, C. longa, is the source of the spice turmeric.
Turmeric has been a key component in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. This medical tradition uses turmeric for more than 100 health conditions, from healing wounds and skin conditions to easing congestion.
Roots are an essential source of saffron-yellow that’s culturally significant. It’s used to dye clothing and thread for weddings and monk’s robes. In some areas, the color is linked to the deity Krishna.
The Symbolism of Siam Tulips
Siam tulips make a stunning addition to a floral gift. The colorful blooms and bracts rise high on solid stalks, creating a perfect centerpiece. Gifts of live plants are also an excellent choice for birthdays, congratulations, get well gestures, and many other occasions.
In the language of flowers, Siam Tulips carry the following symbolic meanings:
Elegance and Beauty:
Siam Tulips are admired for their striking and exotic appearance. They symbolize elegance and beauty, often seen as ornamental plants in gardens and floral arrangements.
Siam Tulips are native to Thailand and Southeast Asia, and their unique and vibrant flowers carry an air of exotic charm. They are often associated with these regions’ rich cultural heritage and natural beauty.
Passion and Desire:
Siam Tulips’ vivid colors and alluring blooms can symbolize passion, desire, and intense emotions. They are sometimes associated with love and romance.
Transformation and Renewal:
Siam Tulips emerge from underground rhizomes and grow into stunning flowers. This growth process symbolizes transformation and renewal, representing the beauty that can arise from hidden depths.
In some cultures, Siam Tulips are believed to possess spiritual significance. They may be associated with purification, enlightenment, or spiritual growth.
Celebration and Festivity:
Siam Tulips are often seen in festive occasions and celebrations, such as Thai festivals and traditional ceremonies. They can symbolize joy, happiness, and the spirit of celebration.
Uses and Benefits of Siam Tulips
While many of the Siam tulip’s relatives’ roots are edible, C. petiola itself isn’t used as a food source. However, the plants have potential medicinal applications.
Beneficial pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and flies, are attracted to the brightly colored flowers. One study of more than 70 flower species found that the Siam tulip was among the top 15 plants visited by pollinators.
How to Grow Siam Tulips
In USDA plant hardiness Zones 8 to 11, Siam tulips can grow and overwinter outside. In zones 7 and lower, grow the plants in containers and move them indoors during winter.
In their native habitat, the plants enjoy tropical conditions — rich, moist soil high in nutrients, dappled light, high humidity, and consistent temperatures year-round. For plants to thrive, try to mimic these conditions as much as possible.
Essentially, you want to mimic the monsoon conditions of the flowers’ native lands. That means hot, humid summers with plenty of water and drier winters.
The plants reach about three feet tall, making them a good choice for the mid-border. They’re also an excellent choice for containers. Just be aware that you’ll need to water very frequently. The rhizomes can grow large quickly. You may need to repot often to keep the pots from breaking.
The plants grow best when lifted and divided about every five years. Divide in spring or summer, and leave at least three to five eyes on each rhizome. Replant the rhizomes about four to six inches below the soil to offer protection.
Here are my essential tips to successfully grow Siam Tulips in your garden:
Where to Plant:
Plant the rhizomes in spring, after the danger of frost has passed. Choose a location for planting Siam Tulip that receives partial shade to full sun. The plant thrives in warm climates and prefers temperatures above 60°F (15°C). Plant it in a spot protected from strong winds.
Siam Tulip prefer well-draining, fertile soil. To improve its fertility and drainage, prepare the soil by adding organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure. Siam tulips prefer a neutral to slightly alkaline pH, up to 7.8.
Siam Tulip grows best in partial shade to full sun. It can tolerate some direct sunlight but will benefit from protection during the hottest part of the day, especially in regions with intense summer heat.
Provide regular and consistent moisture to the Siam Tulip plants. Water thoroughly when the top inch of soil feels dry, but avoid overwatering to prevent waterlogging. Maintain moderate soil moisture throughout the growing season.
Apply a balanced slow-release fertilizer or a water-soluble fertilizer formulated for flowering plants during the growing season. Follow the package instructions for the appropriate dosage and frequency. Fertilize early in the growing season and periodically thereafter to promote healthy growth and blooming.
Remove spent flowers to encourage continuous blooming and maintain a tidy appearance. After the blooming period, you can trim back the foliage to ground level in late fall or early winter. This helps the plant prepare for its dormant period.
Division is the easiest way to propagate. If you want to propagate from seed, you might have to hand pollinate the flowers. Let the seed pods dry into the fall. Once the pods open, sow the seed immediately.
In regions with cold winters, Siam Tulip is typically grown as an annual or as a container plant. If you want to overwinter the plant, dig up the rhizomes before the first frost and store them in a cool, dry place for the winter. Replant them in the garden in the following spring after the danger of frost has passed.
Caring for Siam Tulips
In the fall, the plants may die back to the ground. You can cut back the stems or leave them over the winter. In colder areas, dig out the rhizomes after the first frost. Remove any remaining stalk or foliage.
Store the rhizomes in slightly moist vermiculite, and put them in a cool, dry place. Plant them again in spring.
If you grow in pots, bring the containers indoors and provide just enough water to keep the soil minimally moist.
Growing your Siam tulip in ideal environmental conditions is the best way to avoid pests and diseases. However, you might find that slugs and snails attack the new foliage. Handpick them off, and use slug bait around the base of the plants to prevent infestation.
If you’re growing in containers, watch for spider mites or mealy bugs. These pests are more likely to attack when the soil gets dry. In my experience, the best way to treat mites is with insecticidal soap and dab mealy bugs directly with a solution of 70% isopropyl alcohol in water. Keep the alcohol off the foliage if possible.
In older plants, mushroom root rot may occur. Watch for browning and leaf loss on the top of the stem. If you notice these symptoms, cut open a rhizome and look for browning with white speckling inside. Cut off any infected parts, dust the rest with sulfur powder, and replant the rhizomes in a new location.
Best Companion Plants for Siam Tulips
When choosing companion plants for Siam tulips, look for varieties that thrive in dappled light and moist soil. Some of my personal favorite companion plants for Siam Tulips include:
Silver dwarf elephant ear (Colocasia fallax):
These modest elephant ear’s are an 18-inch tall perennial that’s grown primarily for its attractive foliage, which beautifully contrasts with Siam Tulips.
This stunning tropical plant with dramatic flowers grows up to 10 feet tall and is perfect for back borders alongside Siam Tulips.
Agapanthus blooms all season long and grows well in the shade in hot climates alongside Siam Tulips.
Planting ornamental grasses like Pennisetum, Miscanthus, or Hakonechloa alongside Siam Tulip creates a beautiful contrast in texture and height. The grasses provide a soft, wispy backdrop for the bold foliage and flowers of the Siam Tulip.
Gingers (Hedychium spp.):
Gingers share similar growth habits and cultural requirements with Siam Tulip. Their vibrant flowers and lush foliage create a tropical feel in the garden and make an excellent companion for Siam Tulip.
Caladiums are known for their colorful and patterned leaves, which complement the foliage of the Siam Tulip. Plant them together to create an eye-catching display of foliage colors and textures.
Impatiens are shade-loving annuals that can thrive alongside Siam Tulips in partially shaded areas. Their colorful flowers add a pop of color and create a vibrant and cheerful planting combination.
Ferns, such as Boston Ferns or Maidenhair Ferns, thrive in shade or partial shade, creating a lush and green backdrop for Siam Tulip. The delicate fern fronds and bold Siam Tulip flowers can be visually appealing.
Hostas are shade-tolerant perennials with attractive foliage that can complement Siam Tulip. They create a beautiful contrast in leaf shape and color, adding interest and texture to the planting.
Begonias offer various colors and forms, making them versatile companions for Siam Tulips. Both plants prefer similar growing conditions and can be planted together to create a colorful and diverse garden bed.
Creative Uses for Siam Tulips
Siam tulips are a show-stopper in the garden. The large foliage parts to reveal the brightly colored inflorescences held atop a strong stalk. At three feet tall, they’re an excellent choice for the mid-bed or border.
In containers, the Siam tulip can be the eye-catching showpiece in the center spot of a large pot. They look lovely with shorter foliage plants at the base to offset the striking flower spike.
Siam Tulip FAQs:
How long do Siam Tulips bloom for?
Siam tulips bloom in mid-to-late summer. Bloom time may last for up to 2 or 3 months.
What is the ideal climate for growing Siam Tulips?
In their native habitat, Siam tulips thrive in tropical conditions. Mimic these by providing moist, rich soil that never fully dries out, dappled light, warm summer temperatures, and high humidity.
Can Siam Tulips grow in containers or indoors?
Yes, Siam tulips can grow in containers. In cooler regions, you should bring them inside during the winter. Keep soil minimally moist through the cooler months, and ensure the rhizomes aren’t outgrowing the container.
How often should I water my Siam Tulips?
Siam tulips need to be kept moist. Avoid overwatering or letting the plants sit in standing water, but don’t let them completely dry out.
When is the best time of year to plant Siam Tulips?
Plant the rhizomes in the spring, when all danger of frost has passed.
How can I protect my Siam Tulips from pests and diseases?
Protect your Siam tulips from pests and diseases by providing ideal growing conditions. Watch for slugs and snails, and ensure the soil never completely dries out to protect against spider mites and mealy bugs.
How can I extend my Siam Tulips’ lifespan after being cut?
Immerse cut stems immediately in clean, cold water. Place cut flowers away from sun and heat sources, and change the water frequently.
The Siam Tulip – Wrapping Up
Siam tulips add a flash of tropical splendor to the garden with their dramatic inflorescences and attractive foliage. Growing these beautiful and symbolic flowers in moist soil, dappled sun, and warm, humid conditions will help them thrive. Their stunning yellow and purple, pink or white flowers and bracts make the Siam tulip a lovely addition to any floral gift or when given as a live plant.
For more, see our in-depth on guide whether tulips are toxic to cats, dogs, and other pets.
Linsay is an American copywriter based in the Pacific Northwest with a background in academic writing and research. Linsay holds Master's degree in both Anthropology and Library and Information Sciences and has written for numerous national and international publications including USA Today, SFGATE, Hunker, and The Bump across an array of topics in the gardening, green living, and travel sectors. When she's not writing, you'll usually find Linsay reading, kayaking, sailing, snowboarding, or working in her garden.