What Does a Tulip Bulb Look Like?


Tulips are grown from bulbs. A bulb is any underground plant storage system that contains the entire life-cycle of the plant. There are many kinds of bulbs including corms, rhizomes, tuberous roots, and true bulbs.

True Bulbs

Tulip bulbs fall into the category of true bulbs. True bulbs are generally round or ovoid in shape and share some common characteristics. Other common true bulbs are daffodils, hyacinth and allums.


The tulip bulb has five main parts: a flat basal plate from which the roots grow; fleshy interior scales; a protective covering called a tunic; a central shoot which is the developing flower; and lateral buds. Cut lengthwise, a tulip bulb resembles an onion.

Bulbs with Too Many Lateral buds

Sometimes bulbs develop so many lateral buds that not enough nutrition can be stored in the main bulb. When this happens, flower production suffers.

Separating Lateral Buds

If your tulips appear smaller or less vigorous than in previous years, you can dig them up to inspect them for lateral buds. These buds can be divided from the main bulb and re-planted.

Growing Divided Bulbs

Lateral buds which have been divided have the same growing requirements as the original bulbs including a cold dormancy period. For that reason, dig and divide your tulips in the fall so the new plantings can take root before the ground freezes.


  • University of Illinois Extension - Bulb Basics
  • Botany: Plant Parts and Functions
Keywords: tulip bulbs, appearance, growing, dividing tulips, planting bulbs

About this Author

Lois Lawrence is an attorney and freelance writer living and working in Stonington, Conn. She has written on many subjects including travel, food, consumerism, relationships, insurance and law. Lawrence earned a Bachelor of Arts in economics from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1976, and a Juris Doctor degree from Boston University School of Law in 1979.

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