You won’t find banded tulips in the garden, but if you’ve been beachcombing on the Florida Gulf Coast, you might have one in your seashell collection! The banded tulip (Fasciolaria lilium) has a beautifully decorated, spiral shell. This prized beach treasure can grow to over 4″ in length. Banded tulips can be found from Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida to Louisiana and Texas, extending to Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. They live on sand and muddy sand in water from 2′ to 150′ deep.
The closely related Florida banded tulip (F. l. hunteria) is a more common find than the banded tulip (but equally gorgeous). Found on the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Florida and around to Alabama on the Gulf coast, this seashell is generally smaller than the banded tulip. It’s spiral lines are spaced a bit wider than on the banded tulip.
Question: How do you tell the difference? Answer: This is where it gets tricky. Conflicting information abounds!
When I checked our collection of beach treasures from Sanibel Island, I referred to my Audubon Field Guide and looked for the telltale shallow grooves near the top of the seashell, at the “third whorl.” I understand that the banded tulip is the one that has little depressions that run around the shell there. These little ridges are easily detectable if you are looking for them. The Florida banded tulip, on the other hand, is missing these little grooves. ~Maybe~
I’ve seen a very respectable source (The Baily-Matthews Shell Museum) use the entire Latin name Fasciolaria lilium hunteria, but then only refer to their site’s pictured shell as a banded tulip. I’ve also seen photos of both banded tulips and Florida banded tulips with their names all mixed up in a variety of shell guides. Please, don’t even get me started on true tulips!
When it comes right down to it, collecting a bunch of tulips on the beach is awesome fun in every season! ~Come tiptoe through the tulips with me.
Happy Spring! Happy Beachcombing!