Tulips are one of the most commonly thought-of flowers for spring. They last as cut flowers, are easily used in arrangements and, because of air shipping, are available as fresh flowers all year long. Contrary to what you might think, tulips are not native to Holland, but the central plains of Turkey close to the Russian border. The Ottoman Empire was cultivating tulips as early as 1000 C.E., according to American Meadows. Most commercial bulb production, however, happens in Holland.
Tulips are bulbs. The bulb is composed of overlapping layers attached to a basal plate. The embryonic plant and flower is within the bulb. If you've ever cut open an onion that has started to sprout, you'll see that the green shoot originates within the center of the layers from the basal plate. Other flowers that come from a bulb like tulips are oriental, Asiatic and amaryllis lilies. Tulips procreate by setting seeds from the pollinated flowers and growing baby bulbs from the main bulb. The lily bulbs do this as well.
Tulips have long, strappy leaves that curve inward toward the flower stem. The leaves appear first, and are followed by the flowers. After the flower has bloomed and died, the leaves continue to grow, providing nourishment to the bulb for the next year's flowers. If the leaves are cut off too soon, the bulb will grow the next year but not produce blooms. Tulips require a cold dormancy period of at least 16 weeks to bloom. Plant them in fall before the first frost. Other flowers that have a growth habit similar to tulips are daffodils and hyacinths.
Tulips do not tolerate heat and thrive in cool spring weather. Other flowers similar to tulips that are cool season plants are sweet peas, snapdragons and pansies. Pansies even tolerate a bit of frost just like tulips.
Tulips display a huge variety of sizes, blooming times, colors and blossoms. When you think of a tulip flower, you most likely think of a cup-shaped single flower of six petals about 2 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Bellflowers look like small blue tulips with pointed petals. Crocus have cup-shaped blooms that look like tiny tulips carried on very short stems. Magnolias look like giant tulips that grow on trees.