450px-Tulip_-_floriade_canberraTulipa (Tulips) is a genus of some 100 species of hardy, bulbous perennials from Europe, asia and the middle east- especially Central Asia. They prefer sun but will take light shade, and must have a well-drained soil, though seem to prefer heavier soils than lighter ones. Tulips are grown for their showy flowers, which are usually at the end of a stem and upright, with six tepals. They vary from cup- or bowl-shaped to goblet-shaped, some with long, very narrow tepals, or lily-like or star-shaped- some are fringed.

There is a wide range of colours and bi colours. Depending on the species, tulip plants can grow as short as 4 inches (10 cm) or as high as 28 inches (71 cm). The leaves are usually grown from the base of the main stems, are broadly ovate in shape and sometimes are wavy-edged or channelled.

Tulips can be planted in groups among other plants in a border, in pots or ‘naturalised’ in grass. They tend to be later flowering than Narcissus and crocus so growing these together can produce a flowering display lasting up to three or four months.

The bulbs should be planted 15cm deep in the autumn. Cultivars benefit from being lifted and ripened every year once the leaves have died down. Most of the Darwin hybrids (such as ‘Apeldoorn’), the Greigii and Kaufmanniana groups  and the species tulips can be left in the ground for a number of years; mark the position to avoid damaging the bulbs with other planting. The size of flowers will diminish over time and they will also benefit from being lifted and divided every few years – this should be done as soon as the foliage dies down.

Mice love tulip bulbs, so store lifted bulbs out of reach and protect newly planted bulbs from disturbance. Some people have an allergic reaction  to any part of the plant which may cause skin irritation, and all parts can be mildly poisonous if eaten (though the flower petals can apparently be eaten – see link below).

Although tulips are often associated with the Netherlands, commercial cultivation of the flower began in early Persia probably somewhere in the 10th century. Early cultivars must have emerged from hybridisation in gardens from wild collected plants, which were then favoured, possibly due to flower size or growth vigour. During the Ottoman Empire, numerous tulips were cultivated and bred. 

Bulbs fields in Holland
Bulbs fields in Holland

The word tulip, which earlier appeared in English in forms such as tulipa or tulipant, entered the language by way of the French tulipe and its obsolete form tulipan or by way of Modern Latin. The word derives from the Persian word for ‘turban’ chosen because of a perceived resemblance of the shape of a tulip flower to that of a turban This may have been due to a translation error in early times, when it was fashion in the Ottoman Empire to wear tulips on their turbans. The translator possibly confused the flower for the turban.

Between 1634 and 1637, the early enthusiasm for the new flowers in the Netherlands triggered a speculative frenzy now known as Tulip Mania. Tulips became so expensive that they were treated as a form of currency.  To this day, tulips are associated with the Netherlands, and the cultivated forms of the tulip are often called “Dutch tulips.” In addition to the tulip industry and tulip festivals, the Netherlands has the world’s largest permanent display of tulips at Keukenhof, although the display is only open to the public seasonally.

In horticulture, tulips are divided up into fifteen groups (Divisions) mostly based on flower characteristics and plant size.

  • Div. 1: Single early with cup-shaped single flowers, no larger than 8 cm across (3 inches). They bloom early to mid season. Growing 15 to 45 cm tall.

  • Div. 2: Double early with fully double flowers, bowl-shaped to 8 cm across. Plants typically grow from 30–40 cm tall.

  • Div. 3: Triumph single, cup-shaped flowers up to 6 cm wide. Plants grow 35–60 cm tall and bloom mid to late season.

  • Div. 4: Darwin hybrid single flowers are ovoid in shape and up to 8 cm wide. Plants grow 50–70 cm tall and bloom mid to late season. This group should not be confused with older Darwin tulips, which belong in the Single Late Group below.

  • Div. 5: Single late cup or goblet-shaded flowers up to 8 cm wide, some plants produce multi-flowering stems. Plants grow 45–75 cm tall and bloom late season.

  • Div. 6: Lily-flowered the flowers possess a distinct narrow ‘waist’ with pointed and reflexed petals. Previously included with the old Darwins, only becoming a group in their own right in 1958.

  • Div. 7: Fringed (Crispa)

  • Div. 8: Viridiflora

  • Div. 9: Rembrandt

  • Div. 10: Parrot

  • Div. 11: Double late Large, heavy blooms. They range from 18 to 22 in. tall

  • Div. 12: Kaufmanniana Waterlily tulip. Medium-large creamy yellow flowers marked red on the outside and yellow at the center. Stems 6 in. tall.

  • Div. 13: Fosteriana (Emperor)

  • Div. 14: Greigii Scarlet flowers 6 in. across, on 10 in. stems. Foliage mottled with brown.

  • Div. 15: Species (Botanical)

  • Div. 16: Multiflowering not an official division, these tulips belong in the first 15 divisions but are often listed separately because they have multiple blooms per bulb.

They may also be classified by their flowering season:

  • Early flowering: Single Early Tulips, Double Early Tulips, Greigii Tulips, Kaufmanniana Tulips, Fosteriana Tulips, Species Tulips

  • Mid-season flowering: Darwin Hybrid Tulips, Triumph Tulips, Parrot Tulips

  • Late season flowering: Single Late Tulips, Double Late Tulips, Viridiflora Tulips, Lily-flowering Tulips, Fringed Tulips, Rembrandt Tulips

I mentioned my visit to the Amsterdam Flower Market recenrtly and here’s the 70 tulips I have for adding to the many groups that I already have in borders and pots at Old School Garden.

Tulips from Amsterdam...
Tulips from Amsterdam…

Sources and further information:


Growing Tulips- RHS

How to grow Tulips- Bunny Guinness

Tulips and Holland

Tulip Mania

Eating Tulip flowers

Related articles:

It’s Time to Talk Tulipsage

PicPost: Tulip Mania

Tip Toe Through the Tulips

Tulip mania and Bitcoin

Bloemen Marvellous

November in the Garden: 10 Top Tips

A-Z of Perennials: Q is for Quamash

GQT: Grow-bag Bulbs

Pleasing Planters

May in the Garden- Top 10 Tips

Plants to die for…

Old School Gardener