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In the most dry, scientific terms, the tulip is a bulbous flowering perennial plant encompassing around 75 currently accepted wild species belonging to the family Liliaceae. Tulips historically needed a good freeze to bloom, but modern farming techniques have made them generally available year-round. But we’re not here to learn history. We’re discussing the striking variety of tulips because, despite being one of the most recognizable flowers on earth, the plant has plenty of surprises in store.
For every archetypal tulip, with svelte bulb and bold color, there are likely several other unique species that pass by unknown. Gorgeous blooms can appear in a range of shapes and colors, some wholly unrecognizable from the sort you’ll often find associated with “Dutch” anything. We’ve gathered a handful of the most important types of tulip here, in the hopes of widening your perspective on this important flower.
Our first selection is the one most folks are familiar with. While coming in a range of specific species, the “standard” variant appears exactly as you’d expect. These are the types you’ll see in the tulip section at your local florist or the grocery store, and spread throughout local gardens in springtime. You can break down standard tulips into subcategories, but these are in-depth terms that we’ll leave for the hardcore gardeners.
As a traditional cut flower, tulips are fantastic for a handful of reasons. First of all, their familiarity has bred generations-deep associations with happiness, springtime, and positive feelings. They make for wonderful gifts! Most standard tulips also have a consistently pure color, which makes them a great addition for floral arrangements. The exceptions to this one-color rule are often surprisingly beautiful, with bi-color tulips found in gorgeous, complementary combinations. Best of all? Standard tulips are relatively cheap for such a beautiful flower.
The meaning of the name double bloom becomes clear the moment you set eyes on this flower. Instead of the single petal layer seen in standard tulips, this breed displays a multitude of layers. You’re likely to hear these referred to by several different names, including peony bloom, but we’re sticking with double bloom because it’s literally descriptive.
These make a unique contribution to bouquets, adding a lush, voluptuous look to the design. While perfectly handsome on their own, double blooms mix well with other flowers for a complex, visually stunning arrangement. Please note that some variants of this type are seasonal to a fault, available only a few weeks of the year. If you’re really set on this look and want them for a specific occasion, you may want to plan around the season, or choose a less specific range of flowers.
Parrot Tulips are a truly unique proposition within the tulip family. The name comes from the appearance of ruffled petals with multiple colors, echoing the plumage of a tropical parrot!
Let’s spell out what sets the parrot tulip apart. First of all, they grow extra quickly. The blooms themselves tend to be larger, making a challenge for breeders who have to ensure strong stems to support the weight. The stalks may bend a bit more than standard breeds. While all parrot tulips are multi-colored, they also open into immense, textural blooms. This makes them add a truly unique touch to any arrangement.
The parrot doesn’t always appear as a recognizable tulip, which may cause friends to ask what type of flower it is. The unique visuals come from a quickly growing and relatively untamable plant, constantly shifting and resisting hard definition.
“Fringed” neatly describes the look of this tulip type. Quite similar to standard tulips in general shape, the edges of the petals themselves are fringed, frilly, and have an almost ragged, soft appearance. The fringed effect creates a striking visual complexity, enhancing the eye-catching ability of the flower in every diverse color they may be found. These are best placed around slimmer, more straightforward flowers in an arrangement, to really let the fringed look pop. Or better yet, employ these unique flowers all on their own!
Bi-Color Standard Tulips
While traditional standard tulips tend to be in solid colors, Bi-Color standard tulips have a bit more variation to them. They’re slightly more expensive than standard tulips, but still have that classic tulip shape to their blooms.
Pictured here is the beautiful Prinses Irene tulip cultivar, which have brilliant orange blooms with rich purple markings.
These showy, tall tulips feature pale colors that are distinctly variegated or streaked with deep purple or red “flames”, and as you may have guessed, are named for the famous Dutch painter Rembrandt. Originally, these striped beauties were the result of a virus that damaged the bulbs. The original Rembrandt bulbs are no longer sold, but a non viral variety are available. These modern Rembrandts are just as beautiful as the originals.
These tulips were developed from a wild species of tulip found in the mountains of Central Asia, and vary in height but all have a beautiful bloom with huge, wide petals in bold colors. More commonly known as Emperor tulips, they look impressive when planted in large planting beds, and will come back year after year.
These beautiful flowers are a far cry from the standard tulip, and are among the first tulips to flower. They tend to be short, making them perfect for rock gardens and containers. The flowers have pointed petals, which open almost completely flat on sunny days. When they open flat, these tulips look much more like waterlilys than tulips, hence their alternate name, Waterlily. These blooms are among some of the largest, measuring 8 inches across at the largest.
Lily Flowering Tulips
These elegant tulips bloom in late spring, and have long, pointed petals that arch at the tips. Much like the Kaufmanniana tulips, the blooms are shaped like lily flowers. From above, they look like six-pointed stars. These beauties aren’t available in many varieties, but their shape makes up for the limited color variety. The cultivar pictured here is the Aladdin, which has fierce red petals with contrasting yellow edges.
These unique tulips are named for the streak of green that is found somewhere on each petal. These are in direct, dramatic contrast with the basic flower color, shown here in pink. In addition to their beauty, Viridiflora tulips are known for their exceptionally long blooms, which makes them a beautiful and worthwhile addition to any flower garden. Shown here is the Groenland cultivar.
These crosses between Fosteriana tulips and Darwin Tulips (which are now considered late-blooming single tulips) are the tallest tulips available. They’re best known for their huge blooms, which can measure 6 inches in diameter. Darwin Hybrids are treasured for their brilliant colors, and are sometimes considered the very best tulip for cut flowers.
While some tulips only remain beautiful for several years, Darwin Hybrids look just as beautiful year after year, as long as you don’t cut the leaves off after blooming. Shown here is the Daydream cultivar, a bold yellow flower with apricot edges.
Single Late Tulips
These lovely tulips come into bloom, as their name implies, after every other variety of tulip. This type of tulip is also called a Cottage tulip or a Mayflowering Tulip. These are beautiful, standard cup-shaped tulips that come in the widest range of colors possible for tulips, and give Darwin Hybrids a run for the title of tallest tulip.
Shown above are Single Late Tulips of the Esther cultivar, which have pink petals with silver edges.
These beauties are typically shorter than most other varieties, but the blooms are enormous in proportion to their height. They come in bold colors, like red or yellow, and the flowers tend to open wide in the sunshine. Because these tulips are so short, they are ideal for rock gardens or containers.
One of the most striking features of these tulips are the striped or spotted leaves. Shown here are the Red Riding Hood cultivar.
We hope this brief breakdown of the surprising variety of tulips has been eye-opening for you. Realizing the sheer complexity and range of tulip appearances was a revelation for us. What once was merely a beautiful if stodgy standard-bearer is now understood as the innovative breed it truly is!