18 May 2011
Last updated at 01:18
The mountains of Central Asia are believed to be the birthplace of wild tulips. The Karatau mountains in southern Kazakhstan are home to some of the most beautiful wild species. This field is called Red Hill. A unique combination of rich soil and micro-climate provides the perfect conditions for Greig tulips.
One of the most elegant species, Greig's tulip is sometimes referred to as the Queen Tulip. Its flowers can reach up to 12cm in diameter. First recorded in 1877 by Eduard Regel of the St Petersburg Botanic Garden, he named the flower after botanist Samuel Greig, then head of the Russian Horticultural Society.
Greig's tulip is found in bright red and yellow. The leaves are often striped or spotted with red dots. Greig's tulip is in Kazakhstan's Red Book of endangered species, along with 17 others. There are a total of 36 wild tulip species found in the Kazakh mountains.
Kaufman's Tulip was also discovered in 1877 by Eduard Regel and is named after Konstantin von Kaufman, then-governor of Turkestan (part of today's Kazakhstan). It blooms from April to July depending on the altitude, and is usually found on rocky slopes close to the snow line.
This is a natural hybrid of the Greig and Kaufman tulips. Many types of tulips are cultivated in Holland where the flower is a national symbol. A number of the cultivated types are thought to be descended from tulips that grow in the Kazakh steppe.
Eco-tourists flock to Kazakhstan, particularly in spring, to admire the flora and fauna. This is Berkara gorge, which is a nature reserve, home to more than 1,600 species of plants and over 100 species of birds.
The Berkara reserve, in the foothills of the Karatau mountains, is also rich in wildlife. There are 26 types of mammals and 12 types of reptile. Some of the animals are endangered such as the Indian porcupine and golden eagle. This is a rare type of toad known as bufa pewzawi.
Wim Lemmers is a retired tulip grower from Holland who has been travelling to Kazakhstan to study tulips for over a decade. One new tulip species Tulipa lemmersii, discovered here in 2009, is named after him. Diana Everett is an English artist who is currently working on a book of illustrated tulip drawings.
Yevgeniy Belousov is an ornithologist and biologist who runs a small tour firm for bird and flower enthusiasts. He says that once the wild tulip is picked it takes seven to 10 years for the bulb to flower again. He says more needs to be done to raise awareness of this fragile ecosystem.