Tulips are favorites of Midwest gardeners, but 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.
Tulips are grouped into 15 divisions based on shape and origin. Tulips can also be grouped by bloom time (early, mid-season, and late).
Early Season Flowering
Single Early Tulips (Division 1) 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 cultivars have a sweet fragrance. Single early tulips are excellent for rock gardens, beds, and forcing.
Double Early Tulips (Division 2) 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 divisions.
Kaufmanniana Tulips (Division 12) 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 6 to 8 inches. Their compact size makes them good choices for border edges and rock gardens.
Fosteriana Tulips (Division 13) produce some of the largest flowers of the genus. They also perennialize well. Fosteriana tulips are also known as emperor tulips.
Greigii Tulips (Division 14) 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.
Triumph Tulips (Division 3) produce cup-shaped flowers on strong, medium-length stems. Average plant height is 10 to 16 inches. This is the largest tulip division and offers the widest range of flower colors. Triumph tulips are short term perennials as most cultivars bloom only for a few years. However, they are excellent for forcing.
Darwin Hybrid Tulips (Division 4) 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.
Late Season Flowering
Single Late Tulips (Division 5) 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.
Lily-flowering Tulips (Division 6) have long pointed petals which arch outward, the flowers somewhat resembling a lily. Flower colors include white, pink, red, yellow, and purple. Several cultivars have petals edged or feathered in contrasting colors. Plants grow to a height of 20 to 30 inches.
Fringed Tulips (Division 7) have flowers with elegant fringed petals. Many cultivars are mutants of single late tulips. They are also known as "crispa tulips."
Viridiflora Tulips (Division 8) produce long-lasting flowers which have prominent green markings on their petals. The unusual flower characteristics make them interesting additions to the garden.
Parrot Tulips (Division 10) have deeply feathered, curled, or twisted petals. Flowers may be single or multi-colored. Many cultivars have a green spot at the base of their petals. Parrot tulips perform best in protected locations as they don't stand up well to harsh weather.
Double Late Tulips (Division 11) 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.
Variable bloom time
Rembrandt Tulips (Division 9) 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 "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, a number of modern, virus-free Rembrandt-type cultivars are available. Bloom time is cultivar specific.
Species and Miscellaneous Tulips (Division 15) include wild species, horticultural cultivars, and hybrids. Most are short-statured plants. Species and miscellaneous tulips are available in a wide array of colors. They perennialize well and are excellent plants for rock and heirloom gardens. Bloom time is species/cultivar specific and varies from early to late spring.
Multi-flowering Tulips (sometimes listed as Division 16) are actually members of one of the other 15 divisions. However, they are often grouped together in catalogs and on web pages. Multi-flowering tulips produce 3 to 7 blooms per stem. The main stem of multi-flowering 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. Bloom time is cultivar specific.
When browsing garden centers this fall, don't forget to purchase some tulip bulbs. Your only problem may be selecting cultivars from the wide array of tulips.
Tulipa 'Yellow Mountain' (Double Late Tulip).
Tulipa greigii 'Red Riding Hood' (Greigii Tulip).
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