Plant Common Name
What would spring be without tulips? The diversity of color, texture and interest of these hardy blooming bulbs is unparalleled in the early perennial border. They may flower in early, mid or late spring, depending on the cultivar, and are distinguished by six showy petals/tepals that curve upward to form a cup.
Tulips have a long, rich cultivation history, but were intensively hybridized and perfected by the Dutch starting in the 16th century. There are approximately 100 species and hundreds of cultivated varieties. Tulips originate from temperate regions across Europe and Asia, but a significant number of species exist in Middle Eastern countries such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkey.
These bulbs are often short-lived, save some species tulips and select cultivars, and are often treated as annuals. Tulip bulbs can be eaten by small mammals, such as voles, and may require winter protection. Likewise, their sweet green tops are favored by deer, so tulips are not recommended for gardens that are frequented by the large four-legged pests.
Despite these problems, tulips are generally easy to grow. They prefer full to part sun and require average to fertile soil with good drainage. After blooming, it is good to let their green tops photosynthesize to allow them to store plenty for fuel for next spring’s display. Once their leaves start to turn yellow, they can be cut to the ground. Hardiness is cultivar/species dependent, but all tulips require a chilling period to bloom.
Tulips offer spring color to any container or sunny garden. Be sure to consider height and bloom time when designing with tulips as these vary greatly from cultivar to cultivar. It is also wise to plant extra for cutting as they make superb cut flowers.
Tulip species and cultivars fall under 15 separate classes that distinguish plants by floral form and parentage. These classes are:
(1) Single Early Group: Commonly blooming in early to mid spring, these single-flowered tulips tend to be short-stemmed and have an overall compact stature.
(2) Double Early Group: Commonly blooming in early to mid-spring, these double-flowered tulips vary in height and often have large, lush, open flowers.
(3) Triumph Group: Commonly blooming in mid-to late spring, these single tulips have a medium to tall stature. They were first introduced in 1923 by the Dutch plant breeder, N. Zandbergen.
(4) Darwin Hybrid Group: Commonly blooming in late spring, these single tulips are tall and stately. They were first introduced in 1943 by the Dutch hybridizer D. W. Lefeber, and tend to be more long-lived than many other Tulipa hybrids.
(5) Single Late Group: Blooming in late spring, these single tulips include both the Darwin and Cottage tulips.
(6) Lily-flowered Group: Blooming in late spring, these tall to medium-sized tulips are distinguished by their lean, elegant, curved flowers and pointed petals/tepals.
(7) Fringed Group: Blooming in late spring, these single tulips have petals/tepals edged with a fine fringe that may be the same or a contrasting color.
(8) Viridiflora Group: Blooming in late spring, these tulips have flowers of varying colors that are streaked with green.
(9) Rembrandt Group: A very old class of tulip distinguished by mixed, broken color patterns on the petals.
(10) Parrot Group: Blooming in late spring, these wonderfully showy tulips have curved, coarsely fringed petals/tepals that are often in varying colors.
(11) Double Late Group: Blooming in late spring, these fully-doubled tulips come in an array of colors and often have very densely packed petals.
(12) Kaufmanniana Group: Blooming in early spring, these large-flowered tulips tend to be short-stemmed and have an compact to medium stature. Their blooms have long petals/tepals that open wide in the sun, and their foliage is often marked or mottled with maroon purple markings.
(13) Fosteriana Group: Blooming in early to mid-spring, these tulips are hybrids of Greigii and Kaufmanniana tulips. They tend to be compact in stature and have attractive single blooms.
(14) Greigii Group: Blooming in early to mid-spring, these tulips have distinct flowers, with inner petals that stand horizontally and exterior petals that flare, and foliage with sinuous margins.
(15) Miscellaneous: Tulips that fall outside all other categories.