Synonymous with Holland, windmills and glorious springtime flower beds around St. Patrick's Day and Easter, tulips rank as one of the world's most beloved garden and cut flowers. Growing from firm, teardrop-shaped bulbs, they bloom anytime from early spring to the final weeks of late spring. Squirrels and chipmunks will dig up and eat tasty tulip bulbs and deer will munch on tulip flower buds. Grow tulips in U.S. Department of Agriculture winter hardiness zones 3 through 8.
Wild species tulips hail from Europe, Asia and the Middle East, with the greatest species coming from central Asia according to the "A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants." Tulips native to Persia were taken to the Netherlands in the 17th century where they gained huge favor, resulting in the maddening "Tulipmania" era in the 1630s where tulips were traded like currency. Today, breeders create complex hybrids called cultivars that display varying flower colors, shapes, sizes and blooming times across spring.
While we casually call them petals, the tulip flower comprises six tepals. Tepals are an ambiguous name for petals and flower bud covering sepals that look indistinguishable. Tulip flowers occur on an upright stem either singly or in loosely branched clusters. In the flower's center is a central shaft that houses the female sex organs surrounding by six filaments topped with anthers that shed the male pollen grains.
Tulip blossoms may bear merely six tepals, making them single in form, or extra petal numbers that makes the bloom look ruffled and full. These types are called double tulips. There is considerable variation in the shape of tulip flowers and the "A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants" simplifies them into six types: single cup-shaped, double bowl-shaped, goblet-shaped, fringed, long/slender-tepal, or star-shaped. These shapes become more complex when the tepals are twisting or rounded.
Horticulturists divide tulips into 15 groupings based on their flower shapes, forms, genetic ancestry or flowering season. Originally, these divisions were assigned merely a number and written like "Division 1." Today the divisions are assigned names for ease of discussion and recognition. The groups are: single early, double early, Triumph, Darwin Hybrid, single late, lily-flowered, fringed, Viridiflora, Rembrandt, parrot, double late (peony flowered), Kaufmanniana, Fosteriana, Greigii, and miscellaneous.
Generally speaking, tulip flowers are synonymous with springtime and carry a meaning of fame and perfect love according to Living Arts Originals. Different flower colors relay specific symbolism. Red tulips mean "believe me" and proclaim of true love. Yellow tulips mean "a sunny smile" and feelings of cheerfulness. Cream colored tulips mean "I will love you forever." White tulips symbolize heaven, newness and purity. Purple tulips symbolize royalty. Pink tulips invoke thoughts of affection and caring. Orange tulips mean energy, enthusiasm, desire, and passion. Variegated tulips mean "you have beautiful eyes."
Tulips bloom in springtime but must be planted the previous autumn. The bulbs require a prolonged winter dormancy subjected to temperatures between roughly 25 and 40 degrees F for at least eight weeks. Without this chilling, flower buds do not form and not enough chilling can cause flowers to open quickly on very short stems in spring rather than a long elegant stem first growing followed by a colorful flower bud weeks later.