University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Fall News Article


TULIP TEMPTATIONS

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 
If you think tulips are basically all the same, prepare to be tempted by all colors and flower shapes in heights from 6 inches to 3 feet tall.  Planting a diversity of tulips from the hundreds available among 15 types can give you a long period of blooms and some quite striking flowers.
           
The oldest are the single early tulips, dating back to the late 1500's in Holland.  Ones such as the dark 'Purple Prince' have a "tulip" shape (oval to egg-shaped with somewhat pointed tip when young), get 6 to 18 inches high, and bloom early to mid season.  Double early tulips with many more petals, such as the pink 'Foxtrot', bloom about the same time, reach 12 to 18 inches high, and first appeared in the mid 1700's in Europe about the time our country was being settled.  One of my favorites is the yellow with red streaked 'Monsella'.
           
Less pointed but more square shaped, the flowers of the Triumph tulips are some of the most common, such as the purple 'Attila'.  These can reach 2 feet high and bloom mid-season.  Another common class of tulips, also blooming mid season, are the Darwins such as the popular red 'Apeldoorn'.  These have flowers more similar to the early ones, often opening to a cup shape, and get 2 to 3 feet tall.  Unlike most tulips these are perennial, reblooming each year.  Darwins date from the 1800's and were originally bred by Belgium monks.
           
Several other classes of tulips bloom late, such as the single late yellow 'Big Smile'. These have more slender, pointed flowers and reach 2 to 3 feet.  The double late are a similar height but with quite different flowers.  Resembling peonies they are often called "peony flowered", and sometimes come in color combinations such as the white with red-streaked 'Carnaval de Nice'. 
           
Another late class also is streaked with colors, but the flower shape of the Rembrandts is more like a tulip than a rounded peony flower.  They were the tulips painted and made famous by Rembrandt.  During the 1600s, this streaking was caused by a virus that of course at that time gardeners didn't know about.  These bulbs were so unusual they became collectable, and were sold for large sums of money during a short-lived craze called "tulipmania". Today the bulbs you buy as Rembrandts, such as the red and white 'Union Jack', of course don't have virus but were bred to resemble these historic bulbs.
           
Some other late classes of tulips have unusual and attractive flowers, mostly reaching 2 feet or a bit less.  The lily-flowered, such as 'White Elegance', are narrow with petals flaring outward as you might picture in a lily.  This class dates from the late 1800's.  The fringed tulips have a tulip shape but with fringed petal edges, often of a different color.  'Nippon' is an example with red flowers, their petal edges with a contrasting yellow fringe, or 'Cummins' with purple flowers white fringed on the edges. Viridiflora have green streaks, viridis meaning green, such as the white and green 'Spring Green'.  Parrot tulips are a bit similar to the peony-flowered, only less dense with deeply cut edges, and often are seen as bicolors. Ones such as 'Apricot Parrot' with red, white and green can get a bit over 2 feet tall. The Rembrandts sometimes are grouped here.
           
Then there are several species of tulips, generally blooming early and low-- about 6 to 12 inches high so good along edges of beds, walks, and rock gardens.  Many of these are perennial. Fosteriana tulips like the white 'Concerto' have very early and large flowers, and sometimes purple streaked leaves.  Greigii tulips like the red and white 'Plaisir' also have streaked leaves that stay near the ground and are wavy.  Kaufmanniana tulips such as the red and white 'Johann Strauss' or 'Ice Stick' have strap-like leaves and are some times called "waterlily" types. They too bloom quite early and sometimes have streaked foliage.
           
The miscellaneous class includes many other species tulips, generally low and early blooming, and some less hardy in the north.  'Fusilier' has multiple red flowers and a wide squat base of leaves.  'Persian Pearl' is from another species with very thin strap-like leaves, and flowers hardly like a tulip.  This one has purple open small flowers with yellow centers.  'Tarda' has rather large star-shaped flowers on low plants, yellow with white tips.
           
The widest selection of tulips often is found in bulb catalogs, most accessible with ordering online.  These are generally available until late September or early October for the north.  If you miss this, or would just rather shop locally in garden stores, shop early for the best selection.  Don't forget the bulb fertilizer when buying your tulips.  Since tulips are a more formal flower, they are often best planted symmetrically in even numbers. 
             

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