While tulips are favorites of mid-west gardeners, we often fail to appreciate the diversity of these spring-flowering bulbs. Tulips vary tremendously in flower and plant size, bloom period, shape, and color. By planting early, mid-season, and late blooming varieties, tulips may be enjoyed for several weeks in the spring.
The following tulip classifications are based on time of bloom and form.
Single Early Tulips are among the earliest tulips to bloom. The flowers, available in a wide range of colors, are produced on strong, 10- to 18-inch-long stems. The flowers of several varieties have a sweet fragrance. Single early tulips are excellent for rock gardens, beds, and forcing.
Double Early Tulips produce semi-double to double, peony-like flowers. The flowers, measuring up to 4 inches in diameter, are borne on strong, short stems. The color range of double early tulips is smaller than for most other tulip classes.
Greigii Tulips are noted for their brightly-colored flowers and purple striped or mottled foliage. Plant height varies from 8 to 12 inches. Because of their short stature, Greigii tulips are excellent choices for borders or rock gardens. They also perennialize well.
Kaufmanniana Tulips are long-lived perennial tulips. In sunlight, the flowers open fully. The open flowers resemble a star or waterlily. Flower colors include white, yellow, pink, and intermediary colors. The foliage is bluish green or chocolate brown striped. Kaufmanniana tulips are small plants. Average plant height is 4 to 8 inches. Their compact size makes them good choices for border edges and rock gardens.
Fosteriana Tulips produce some of the largest flowers of the genus. They also perennialize well. 'Red Emperor' is a widely grown variety in this class. Fosteriana tulips are sometimes referred to as emperor tulips.
Species Tulips include wild species, horticultural varieties, and hybrids. Most are early blooming, short-statured plants. Species tulips are available in a wide array of colors. They perennialize well and are excellent plants for rock and heirloom gardens.
Darwin Hybrid Tulips are highly prized for their large, brilliant flowers. Flowers are available in shades of red, pink, orange, and yellow. Blooms are borne on strong stems which are up to 30 inches tall. Darwin hybrid tulips often bloom well for several years, making them one of the better perennial tulips.
Triumph Tulips produce cup-shaped flowers on strong, medium-length stems. Average plant height is 10 to 16 inches. This is the largest class of tulips and offers the widest range of flower colors. Triumph tulips are excellent for forcing.
Parrot Tulips have deeply feathered, curled, or twisted petals. Flowers may be single or multi-colored. Many varieties have a green spot at the base of their petals. Parrot tulips are sensitive to poor weather and should be planted in a protected spot.
Late season flowering
Single Late Tulips incorporates the former Darwin, cottage, and breeder tulips. Along with the Darwin hybrid tulips, they are the some of the tallest tulips. Flowers are borne on stems up to 30 inches tall. Flowers are available in a wide range of colors.
Double Late Tulips are often referred to as peony-flowered tulips. The many-petaled flowers are borne on 12 to 20 inch stems. Plant double late tulips in protected locations as the large flowers can be damaged by rain and strong winds.
Viridiflora Tulips produce long-lasting flowers which have prominent green markings on their petals. The unusual flower characteristics make it a novelty item in the garden.
Lily-flowering Tulips have long pointed petals which arch outward, the flowers somewhat resembling a lily. Flower colors include white, pink, red, yellow, and purple. Several varieties have petals edged or feathered in contrasting colors. Plants grow to a height of 20 to 30 inches.
Fringed Tulips have flowers with elegant fringed petals. Many varieties are mutants of single late tulips. Also known as "crispa tulips."
Rembrandt Tulips produce striped or "broken" blooms. The white, yellow, or red petals are striped with red, bronze, or purple. These types were bought for huge sums during the "tulip mania" in Holland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The unusual markings were actually caused by a virus. Due to the virus, the original Rembrandt tulips are no longer sold. However, there several modern, virus-free Rembrandt tulips available.
Multiflowering Tulips produce 3 to 7 blooms per stem. The main stem of multiflowering tulips branches into secondary stems. Each secondary stem produces a flower. The flower on the main stem is slightly larger than those on the secondary stems. Many of the multiflowering cultivars belong to the single late tulip class. These tulips are 14- to 20-inch-tall plants which bloom late in the season. Several varieties are multiflowering Greigii tulips which are 8 to 12 inches tall and early blooming.
Unless otherwise indicated above, most tulips bloom well for only 1 or 2 years. Fosteriana and Darwin hybrid tulips should bloom for 2, 3, or 4 years. Greigii, Kaufmanniana, and species tulips are the longest-lived tulips and should continue to bloom for several years.
When browsing the garden centers this fall, don't forget to purchase some tulip bulbs. Your only problem may be selecting varieties from the wide array of tulips.
This article originally appeared in the September 4, 1998 issue, pp. 118-119.