Van Engelen Horticulturist on Tulip BLight

Noni MorrisonMay 13, 2005

Well! HE tells me it is impossible that we got it from HIS infected bulbs! He says that it is a soil born bacteria and it wouldn't spread that fast. That only the affected bulbs would be ...well, infected this year and the fireheads come up in the summer and spread it.

I told him that I had had NO other flowers of anykind planted in this soil to infect it but he says I have "something" in it...tht I should send a sample ot my county agricultue labs and ask them to test it for pathogens.

As to what they do to prevent it, he says the bulbs are x-rayed in both Holland and the US to check for it.

He recommended a chemical called terra-chlor. He says you have to be able to follow the instructions just right on it and then it works well.

SO interesting....his statements don't match up with my experience or the articles and photos I have seen that look exactly like what my tulips had. Me thinks he did not want to admit financial blame for my $1000 crop failure. IT did not match with what the articles said either....that the spores can conly be spread by soil.

So I kind of doubt I will be buying from Van Engelen this fall....

SO who do I buy from.....?

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Hmmm. Too bad about the lack of any form of responsiblity, or refund. From what I know of importation of food, the USDA or AFIS in this case?, inspects a SAMPLE of the imports. They obviously can't inspect everything that comes through. We're sure we're getting infected bulbs, and the recent literature from Holland suggests they're trying to cope with Botrytis. I wonder if we can get access to AFIS' inspection reports? Looking for trending, etc. I'll look.

I'm very confident about the Schippers product, but I want it cheaper!


    Bookmark   May 14, 2005 at 11:15AM
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Noni Morrison

Do you mean Scheepers? THey are a branch of Van Engelen and you get the very same flowers at higher prices in smaller quantities from them.

I am interested that the others of you having trouble also have tulips from Van Engelen or Scheepers. OViously their emasures they take are not sufficient.

I have a new place to plant in this fall...not nearly as big as what I usually plant but big enough for some...I am wondering if there is any way to build the soil in the meantime to make it more fungus resistant...organically. Wish we had a place on our island that sold the areobically brewed compost tea because that might be one solution. WOuld be interesting to study it anyhow.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2005 at 2:18AM
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Liza, this year I bought 1/2 of my tulip bulbs from Colorblends (, whose home site describes its parent company as Schippers. Two years ago, I bought Duke of Wellingtons from Van Engelen, also known as Scheepers. These were the ones in which I saw blight right off the bat.

I do believe these are different sources, but I could be wrong. The Colorblends product did succumb to blight, but not as quickly as the Van Bourgondien French Pastel Blend (DEMME THEIR EYES! for the Shirleys) which were planted in the previous Duke bed.

By the way, look in the Tulip Fire thread for another Scheepers purchaser with tulip blight. I agree, we need to try to identify the particulars of anyone who has recently coped with Botrytis. Specifically, I think we need to be able to identify:

1) if tulips had ever been planted in the infected beds before we saw blight (for you and me, no). In fact, for you and me, these were new beds entirely, if I've read your posts correctly.

2) what the tulip sources are beyond Scheepers, if any .

3) for Scheepers products, were these an end-of-season sale (I think mine were, and that is interesting to me).

If you go to the USDA website, you'll find an opportunity to report plant diseases to a local representative. You'll also find an opportunity to communicate to "Whomever" by email. I'm going to do both. I am particularly interested in asking the sampling process, and whether APHIS has had other reports of blight. I hope they'll share.

Thank you for your focus. I do believe APHIS has a mission to limit the importation of infected plant material, and I do hope they'll be interested in this.


    Bookmark   May 16, 2005 at 8:11PM
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Noni Morrison

WAy to go , Valerie! And no, my bulbs were not sales items.THey were full price purchases but if their screening was really successful then the sale items would not suffer disease either. I beleive that the problems with Van ENglen may well be the horticulturist who assured me that it could not spread by wind in one season in the garden! That is not what I read in every treatise on Tulip fire!

I may well try some ColorBlends this year.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2005 at 12:56AM
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I purchased tulip bulbs from Van Engelen in the fall - 50 each of Green Village and Green Wave.

I planted them in a brand new, specially designed for tulips, bed that had NEVER been used for any ornamental plants. It was bermuda grass 2 years ago, then heavily amended. I planted them side by side in the new bed.

The Green Wave came up first, and it was stunning. Then, the Green Village came up all red and distorted, with barely enough UMPH to produce any kind of bloom. PLUS they didn't match the photo of the "green village" tulip on the website. I think they sent something else.

So, I believe you are correct. I had NEVER planted a single tulip before this year, but STILL got the tulip fire.

I will not buy tulips again. There are too many other wonderful plants that don't have these kinds of problems.

Thank you for this discussion - I thought I had done something wrong!

Sassy Stems

    Bookmark   May 17, 2005 at 3:43PM
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OH - and I almost forgot.

I took several of the tulip bulbs straight out of the shipping box and planted them into a pot. I then sunk the pot into a different, totally new, flowerbed at the front of my house (whereas the rest were planted at the back of my house). There is a physical distance of about 160 feet, and 1 small brick house between the two plantings.

The tulips in the pot out front came up with tulip fire first. There were no other tulips planted in that bed, ever. It was bermuda grass last year, and for 13 years prior to that.

I still have the pot, with tulips, set aside. I also have the box labels from the boxes the tulips were shipped in. Would there be any residual disease on the labels, if, indeed it originated with the supplier?

Does this help? I haven't written to Van Engelen, but if you think it will help, I'll get right on it!

Sassy Stems

    Bookmark   May 17, 2005 at 7:13PM
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Perhaps we are all overreacting. Some of the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the cutflower grower, as well as at the hands of Mother Nature. One cannot assume always it is the fault of the bulb growers. Many of the tulip bulbs even from reputable sources harbor latent viruses. As long as growing conditions are good, the viruses remain latent and the crop grows well. If the crop is stressed, there will be problems. Plant pathogenic organisms are always present in the soil and in the bulbs or plants. They usually co-exist in a relatively friendly relationship. Sometimes, however, conditions are out of balance and disease roars its ugly head. Fog, cool temperatures, no sun, no wind, stagnant air, high humidity are some of the reasons for the problems being seen in the tulip crops; and, thus the spread of disease organisms. Stagnant humid air promotes the spread of disease. Crops growing out in the field are less likely to be affected due to the fact that there is usually a breeze. As growers, we need to avoid planting our crops too densely; as well as planting them to ensure good air circulation. For this reason, one should consider the overall crop environment, rather than thinking in terms of enemy organisms brought to you by your "friendly bulb vendor."

Flowerfarmer, who will now step down from her soapbox

    Bookmark   May 17, 2005 at 8:27PM
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Noni Morrison

Flowerfarmer, You are right about us having some responsibility in this and I admit I planted my bulbs thickily. However it has worked out fine for me to do that for 5 years now. But when a new planting comes up with all one variety of mix showing distorted leaves when they first come up, and then preceed to be increasingly ugly and the other bulbs near it catch it after starting out healthy looking, then I think it is those particular bulbs that were not healthy to start with. I had atleast 3 different places this happened. In each case, they were mixes. I thnk I will avoid mixes in the future. They were a mix of lily flowered ones from Van Engelen, a mix of parrot tulips from VE and a mix of Early tulips from Costco. (Would love to know who Costco's tulips come from!) LAst year it was a batch of Olliules..

I think we need to keep the producers on their toes and complain when we get diseased products. At the very least they should let us know that we need to use a fungicide with them and yet there is nothing saying that anywhere I could find when reading about tulip culture, until I came to the articles on Tulip Fire. EVerything talks about how if you get healhty bulbs from a reputable grower there is nothing to it...just plant and they will be fine the first year because the bulbs have the flower already formed in them.

EVen in our climate I never heard of anyone having this problem before.

So it doesn't matter how well I nurture my tulips and care for them if the disease is already present in the bulb.

I spent $1500 on tulips last year. I made about $400 off them before they had to withdraw from the market. That is a serious problem to someone who makes only about $3000-5000 a year!I should have atleast made back the cost of my bulbs along with the cost of my labor.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2005 at 1:36AM
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Hi Gang, (prepare yourselves, this could be long)

I do agree with FlowerFarmer about the importance of highlighting Good Horticultural Practices when we discuss plant disease. I do a lot of searches on this forum, and others, before I ask questions. You guys educate quite helpfully, and how-to's on growing a good crop are vitally important to us newbies.

To reiterate another thread, (Journal April 11-17), our tulip crop failure can be explained by at least four major growing mistakes:

1) we planted two years after infection appeared in a bed, the recommendation is minimum 3 years,

2) we planted tightly, which limited air flow,

3) we planted in relatively poorly drained, clay-based soil,

4) we mulched last winter, and then encountered a very wet Spring.

Having said this, which I do believe is vitally important to future tulip growers, I have had some very interesting discussions with APHIS in the last few days. What a wonderfully responsive group! After leaving a message at the regional level (because the N.C. state group # was disconnected), I was put in contact with Debra Stewart of APHIS N.C. She wasn't familiar with Botrytis tulipae, but did inform me of the following:

1) APHIS' mission is to abort/eliminate NEW plant pathogens entering the U.S. If a pathogen is already established here, the cat is essentially out of the bag--my words, not hers.

2) Many bulbs imported from the Netherlands are not inspected on arrival to the U.S. Instead, they have a phytosanitary certificate, which declares them disease-free (including for Botrytis Tulipae). Other bulbs may be inspected in Holland?, and then in a sanitary warehouse in the U.S. upon arrival.

3) She referred me to my state Department of Agriculture (no word from them yet), and recommended I arrange for soil/bulb sampling. She was very precise that the first step of any investigation should be proof of pathogen type. She also suggested I call my county extension agent, who may be the responsible party for the sampling process.

Ms Stewart asked that I report back to her if further investigation concludes that these bulbs contain a disease that a) is new to the U.S. or b) did not undergo inspection upon arrival to our borders.

Later the same day, I got a call from the regional APHIS scientist with whom I left my initial message. He wanted to let me know my info had been passed to the N.C. person for follow-up. He also informed me that Botrytis tulipae is not on the APHIS action list, as it is in this country already---rather, this problem should be regarded by the grower/consumer as a plant quality issue.

I have not yet gotten to my goal of a complete understanding as to whether Botrytis tulipae is a soil pathogen, making it unregulated in its entirety, or a bulb infection accepted by our regulators in a low grade level, as opposed to a "zero-tolerance" policy (for imports). Having seen the striking damage done to my crops, I would not be clear as to the value of a "low-level tolerant" phytosanitary policy.

I have done A LOT of reading about this in the last two months, which suggests that, whereas certain fungi (such as Fusarium and others), are soil pathogens, Botrytis is so unique to the tulip host it HAS to be brought in by infected tulip material. Since my bed was a 30 year pine tree stand until a few years ago; and I live in a forest, which had not seen a single tulip since I moved here 8 years ago until those with blight appeared in a single season, I have concluded that this infection was brought in to my property by infected bulbs. However, I'm happy to be corrected by plant specialists. All the same, it is NOT my goal to detract the APHIS crowd from their daily work, and I have no intention of calling them regularly.

I'll get back to you on the utility of sampling. For now, I recommend anyone with a problem call their state USDA agent for plants, and their county extension agent. My impression is that the only thing we have to offer APHIS is if these bulbs did not undergo inspection in the U.S. This would be useful information to that team. Otherwise, we must act individually to minimize our risk of further infection.

Hope this helps. I've learned a lot.



    Bookmark   May 19, 2005 at 9:06PM
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Jeanne_in_Idaho(z5 N.Idaho)

I'm confused.

I already know that Botrytis is a fairly common plant pathogen, especially in greenhouses. I think it's air- and soil-borne. So is it specifically Botrytis tulipae that is brought in only on tulips? Botrytis in general certainly is not.


    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 7:14PM
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You can color me confused too.
Botrytis is a condition that we battle in the greenhouse.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 9:33PM
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Yep, the Million Dollar Question--is this Botrytis everywhere, or limited to tulips? Please do remember, I'm not a plant pathogen specialist (and please, don't shoot the newbie!).

I did initially worry that Botrytis tulipae was everywhere, and it was my environment/growing practices that led to the crop failure. However, as I looked into it, it turns out that there are many type (species?) of Botrytis. The ancestral mother is Butrytis Cinerea, which infects many different plants, and apparently is a routiine problem in greenhouses (something about grayish fuzz on stems?). There are a number of plant-specific or nearly plant specific Butrytis types--one for lilies, glads, tulips, etc.

One of my big questions was, can I plant ANYTHING in the Botrytis tulipae beds? If you do a search about tulip fire blight, you'll see what I did--you are instructed to avoid planting tulip bulbs for roughly 3 years in an infected bed. You will not see (or at least I haven't) instructions to avoid other bulb/flower planting in those beds--even lilies, tulips' cousins.

I have noted that countries have identified exactly when tulip blight entered their borders--New Zealand first Id'd it in 1976, I think, and traced it to tulip bulbs from Australia.

I haven't learned to link yet--tried to search tonight but search is down? If you go a google search on "evolution of sibling fungal plant pathogens host plant" you should get an interesting (somewhat technical) article that on the first page describes what I'm guessing is your greenhouse problem, Botrytis cinerea (otherwise known as Botrytis fuc_eliana--gotta respect that moniker), and describes its ability to infect many plant types, as opposed to Botrytis tulipae, the lily type, the glad type, the allium type, which are completely host-specific, or may be able to infect a limited spectrum of plants.

Whew! Ultimately, this (Tulip blight) is something we have to address by buying clean bulbs and maintaining good growing practices. Interestingly, in my state, NC, Botrytis tulipae has not been identifed through county extension sampling/state lab testing in the last 10 years. I'm gonna sample my soil, just to get it on the map here (if it is confirmed), and then I'm moving on with my life/growing.

I'm gonna bow out now.


    Bookmark   May 22, 2005 at 9:38PM
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RobRoyOH5(z5 OH)

Wow - this is a scary thread! We planted 2200 Van Engelen tulips last fall, and fortunately had no botytris. They were beautiful. They were planted in a sandy loam and a very windy site - our whole farm is windy. However, botytris and fungal diseases are constant problems for us. Maybe we should avoid tulips next year.

Has anyone read of a fungicidal pretreatment for the bulbs?

Thanks, RobRoy

    Bookmark   May 24, 2005 at 5:47PM
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