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Yellow tulips (Tulipa cv.)
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Michel Tremblay)

With some one hundred species and thousands of cultivars and hybrids, tulips (Tulipa) are unquestionably the most popular of all spring bulbs.

Despite the wide range of varieties and colours, tulips are easy to identify since they are classified according to their flower characteristics and flowering season – early season, mid-season and late season. While the flowering season may vary depending on climate and geography, the order for each group remains unchanged.

In Quebec, early-season tulips bloom in April and early May. Single Early tulips have short, sturdy stems 18 to 20 cm tall and single flowers. Double Early tulips flower later than Single Early tulips, with large double flowers and short, sturdy stems 21 to 29 cm tall.

In Montréal, mid-season flowering tulips bloom in mid-May. Mendel tulips are in this group. Created in the 20th century, these hybrids have stems that are 40 to 60 cm tall, making them ideal for cut flowers; they do, however, need a sheltered location to protect them from strong winds. Triumph tulips, whose stronger stems are more wind-resistant, flower soon after Mendel tulips. Many cultivars have bi-coloured blooms and grow to 45 to 55 cm. Darwin hybrid tulips were created by crossing the ‘Madame Lefeber’ cultivar (Tulipa fosteriana) with a Darwin tulip (1936). These tulips produce huge flowers, have strong stems and can easily reach a height of some 60 cm.

Late-season tulips bloom from late May to early June. This group includes Darwin tulips, which were selected from Cottage tulips. The flowers are rectangular in shape and the stems are long and stiff. Lily-flowered tulips bloom at the same time as Darwins. They have long, pointed petals that are often “reflexed” or turned back. These very elegant flowers are ideal for mass planting in beds and for bouquets. Cottage tulips include late-season varieties with ovoid shaped flowers that do not fit in the Lily-flowered and Darwin tulip groups. They reach heights ranging from 25 to 70 cm.

Rembrandt tulips are striped or mottled in variegated contrasting colours. They were named in honour of the famous painter because they bear a striking resemblance to the tulips depicted by the Dutch masters in the second half of the 19th century. Wonderful in bouquets, their long slender stems – up to 70 cm – are fragile and therefore not wind-resistant; plant in a sheltered location.

Another star in any garden or bouquet is the flamboyant Parrot tulip. With their large and exotically serrated, ruffled and fringed flowers, these tulips do best in areas protected from high winds.

Usually flowering last, Double Late tulips have massive flowers that closely resemble peonies. Because of their heavy blooms, these tulips should be planted in a sheltered location for best results.

Species tulips (hybrids)

Kaufmanniana tulips bloom very early and have short stems (21 to 25 cm). The leaves are sometimes mottled or striped. The huge flowers have long slender petals giving them a dramatic star shape when fully open.

The early flowering Fosteriana tulips have strong stems that support large flowers. The leaves are sometimes mottled and plant height varies from 25 to 34 cm. They bloom at the same time as daffodils.

Also early flowering, Greigii hybrids are known for their marbled or striped foliage and short stems.

Other species comprising many cultivars and hybrids do not fall into any of these groups. They are listed under the catch-all name of botanical tulips. Short-stemmed and early flowering, they naturalize extremely well.

Cultivation

There is more to growing beautiful flowers from bulbs than simply digging the holes and popping in the bulbs. The site and the care you give your bulbs will also affect their lifespan. Well-prepared and amended soil, phosphorus-rich fertilizer and a cool dormancy period will ensure reliable flowering year after year.

As for perennialization (the ability of a plant to rebloom year after year without losing its original characteristics), Darwin hybrids as well as Kaufmanniana, Fosteriana and Greigii tulips are generally excellent. They naturalize well and are good for long-term planting.

 

Based on an article by Francine Joly and Lise Lacouture in Quatre-Temps magazine, Vol. 23, No.1.

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