The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Tulip History and Varieties

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

An elderly botanist, Carolus Clusius, is credited with planting the first tulip bulbs in Holland in 1593. I doubt Clusius had any idea of the furor he started. Tulips, native to Asia, quickly became a symbol of power and prestige. Fortunes were made and lost on tulip bulbs.

Incredible sums were paid in the 1600's for tulips. At one point, a single 'Semper Augustus' bulb could command nearly 3,000 Dutch guilders ($1,500 U.S.). Just a short time later, a similar bulb fetched a whopping 4,500 guilders ($2,250) plus a horse and carriage!

Tulip fanatics didn't let cash flow problems hinder their sales. One early 17th century bill of sale recorded the following transaction for a single tulip bulb: two loads of wheat; four loads of rye; four fat oxen; eight fat swine; twelve fat sheep; two hogsheads of wine; four barrels of beer; two barrels of butter; 1,000 pounds of cheese; a marriage bed with linens; and a sizeable wagon to haul it all away. The equivalent "cash" value of all that merchandise totaled 3,000 guilders ($1,500), which at that time was the price of a large house. Just for one tulip bulb!

Luckily we don't have to spend that much to enjoy the beauty of tulips. However, tulips and all the spring flowering bulbs such as crocus, daffodils and grape hyacinths should be planted in October for flowers in the spring. Although bulbs can be planted until the ground freezes, it is better if the bulb has a chance to root before winter. Plant tulips in well drained soil 8 inches deep.

Select several cultivated varieties (cultivars) with different flowering times for 4 to 6 weeks of tulips in the landscape.

Very early types - late March to early April
Water lily tulips are 4-12 inches tall with pointed petals that open wide. Stresa is golden yellow and red. Tulipa greigii has lovely green leaves with maroon markings at 6-20 inches tall. The most popular is the brilliant red Red Riding Hood. Emperor tulips are 12-15 inches tall. Red Emperor is a fiery red.

Early tulips - mid April to early May
Single early are fragrant, but you will have to bend over to reach the 10 - 18 inch tall plants. Couleur Cardinal is a dark cardinal red. Double early tulips resemble a peony at 10-12 inches tall. All Gold is a deep golden yellow. Tulipa praestans is 8-12 inches tall with multiple flowers per stem. Fusilier is orange scarlet.

Mid season - late April to mid May
Triumphs have sturdy stems at 18-24 inches tall. They come in many colors including bicolors. Darwin hybrids have large flowers on 24 inches tall plants. Flowers come in shades of mostly red. Tulipa tarda has star-like yellow flowers with white edges at a mere 4-6 inches tall.

Late - mid to late May
Darwin tulips are very popular large flowers on 24-30 inches tall plants. They come in all colors and are sturdy, resisting damage from wind and rain. Cottage tulips have egg-shaped mostly pastel colored flowers on 22-30 inches tall plants.

Double late tulips are peony flowered on 8-24 inches tall very sturdy stems. Angelique is a lovely pink. Rembrandt tulips have streaked petals on two feet tall plants.

Lily flowered have slender urn shaped buds with long curving petals that turn outward at the tips. The flowers are long lasting and come in variable colors.

Parrot tulips have large fringed, ruffled petals in vibrant colors.

Early tulips can be planted in ground covers such as English ivy or vinca. Late emerging leaves of hosta will cover the ripening tulip leaves. Later tulips can be planted around perennials such as asters and fall anemones.

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