Tulip Varieties: Early Flowering Tulips Tulip Varieties: Early Flowering Tulips

Tulipa is a genus that includes over 100 different species of plants with more than 4,000 varieties. Although they are associated with the Dutch, they are not native to Holland. They are originally native to southern Europe and Asia. They were introduced to China and Mongolia by the Turkish Empire and eventually made their way to the Netherlands several hundreds years ago.

Over the years, there have been different ways of classifying tulips. As species were crossbred, divisions had to created or merged. Most recently, the Royal General Bulb Growers Association of the Netherlands adopted a classification system with fifteen different divisions. Tulips were then assigned a division based on several factors including their time of bloom and parentage.

Because of this, the divisions can generally be categorized as early flowering, mid-season flowering, or late flowering. Tulips that usually bloom in March are considered early flowering. In general, five divisions are considered early flowering tulips: single early, double early, Greigii, Kaufmanniana or water lily, and Fosteriana or emperor.

The fifteenth division, species tulips, is the most diverse and has varieties that can be considered early, mid-season, and late flowering tulips. Multiflowering tulips, also called bouquet or bunch flowering tulips, are not a division and will take on the characteristics of the class that they were derived from.

Single Early Tulips (Division 1)

Single early tulips are cup-shaped tulips with six petals. Strong, short stems means that they can endure wind and rain better than other species, but are not always the best for cutting. These tulips grow between ten to eighteen inches tall and usually flower in late March or early April. Single early tulips are available in a variety of colors including white, pink, peach, yellow, orange, red, and purple.

Single early tulips are good for rock gardens, flowerbeds, borders, and indoor forcing. They are suitable for USDA Zones 3 through 8. Only some varieties of single early tulips will have a fragrance. Some popular varieties of single early tulips with a fragrance are Beauty Queen, Bellona, General de Wet, Couleur Cardinal, Christmas Marvel, Diana, Apricot Beauty, Yokahama, and Diamond. Some popular varieties of single early tulips without a fragrance are Purple Prince, Flair, Christmas Dream, Merry Christmas, White Cascade, Bestseller, and van der Neer.

Double Early Tulips (Division 2)

Double early tulips have more than the standard six pedals and almost resemble small peonies when they open fully in the sun. They have short, straight, sturdy stems and grow about ten to twelve inches high. They usually flower in late March and early April about the same time as single early tulips and have very long-lasting. Double early tulips are not available in as many colors as other tulips: usually only white, pink, yellow, orange, and red.

Double early tulips are good for rock gardens, flowerbeds, borders, but they do not fare as well as single early tulips in bad weather. They do very well when forced indoors and are suitable for USDA Zones 3 through 7. Only some varieties of these tulips have a fragrance. Some popular varieties of double early tulips are Bel Air, Carlton Abba, Monte Carlo, Montreux, Peach Blossom, Orange Emperor, Carnaval de Nice, Mr. van der Hoef, and Orange Nassau.

Greigii Tulips (Division 14)

Greigii tulips produce large blooms that average about five inches wide when fully opened in late March to early April. The outside petals of the tulip flare outwards while the inside petals stand upright. They are also characterized by wavy-edged leaves that are usually mottled or striped with purple. Greigii tulips are shorter than other varieties, averaging about eight to ten inches high. Blooms are usually very bright colors of white, pink, peach, yellow, and red that are often two-toned or streaked.

Greigii tulip's short size makes them perfect for rock gardens or for the fronts of a border. They perennialize, or naturalize, well in USDA Zones 3 through 7 - which means they will come back year after year. It is one of the longest-living tulips and will usually bloom well for several years. Greigii tulips are also good for containers and indoor forcing. Some popular varieties of Greigii tulips are Cape Cod, Chopin, Dreamboat, Für Elise, Ontario, Pinocchio, Red Riding Hood, Sweet Lady, Lady Diana, Casa Grande, Czar Peter, Rob Verlinden, and Toronto.

Kaufmanniana or Water Lily Tulips (Division 12)

Kaufmanniana, or water lily tulips, are very small tulips that grow about six inches tall that are usually the first tulips to open in mid-March. It has long, slender petals that resemble a star or water lily when they fully extend. Flower colors include white, yellow, pink, orange, red, and violet. Inside color of the bloom is usually dramatically different from the outside color. Foliage is either bluish-green or mottled with deep purple or brown.

Kaufmanniana tulips are usually long-lived perennials and will bloom well for several years. They multiply quickly and are well suited for rock gardens and border edges. These tulips are suitable for USDA Zones 3 through 8. Some popular varieties of Kaufmanniana tulips are Concerto, Giuseppe Verdi, Heart's Delight, Johann Strauss, Scarlet Baby, Shakespeare, Showwinner, Stresa, Sweet Lady, Ancilla, Goudstuk, The First, Ice Stick, and Love Song.

Fosteriana or Emperor Tulips (Division 13)

Fosteriana tulips, also known as emperor tulips, usually flower in late March or early April shortly after Kaufmanniana tulips but usually before Greigii tulips. Fosteriana Tulips grow about fourteen inches tall with a medium to long stem and produce some of the largest flowers. The flowers are usually cup-shaped and come in white, pink, yellow, orange, and red. The leaves are either glossy green or grayish-green and can be mottled or stripped.

Fosteriana tulips are excellent for mass planting, rock gardens, containers, and borders. They will perennialize, or naturalize, well and are suitable for USDA Zones 3 through 8. Fosteriana will continue to bloom well for about two to four years. Only some varieties of this tulip will produce a fragrance. Some popular varieties of Fosteriana tulips are Candela, Concerto, Golden Emperor, Juan, Orange Emperor, Purissima, Pink Emperor, Solva, Princeps, Red Emperor, Madame Lefeber, Sweetheart, White Emperor, and Yellow Purissima.

Species Tulips (Division 15)

The species division is a catch-all class for any type of tulip that does not fit within the other divisions. It includes most wild species plus varieties and hybrids that were cultivated from these species. They are sometimes called "miniature tulips" because of their small size. Usually cultivated species are indicated by a name after the species name. For example, Tulipa humilis 'Persian Pearl' is a cultivated variety of Tulipa humilis.

Because species tulips are wildflowers or variants of them, they are usually very hardy, require less work, and are less vulnerable to stormy spring weather. They are also easier to perennialize and prefer to be left in the ground to multiply naturally. They are suitable for rock gardens and small group plantings. Their flowers usually remain closed through the morning or on cloudy days, showing only the outside color of the petals. Spent flowers should be removed so that the energy goes into revitalizing bulbs instead of seeds. The leaves should not be cut back until they begin to yellow. Species tulips are one of the longest-living tulips and will bloom well for several years.

Although there are about 150 different species of wild tulips, only a few are used in gardens. Here are a few species tulips that are known to bloom in the early spring:
  • Tulipa dasystemon, or Tulipa tarda dasystemonm, is related to the Tulipa tarda. It grows about four to six inches high and produces six star-shaped yellow flowers with white tips. It blooms in April and is hardiest in USDA Zones 4 through 8.
  • Tulipa humilis only grows about four to six inches tall. Its flowers bloom in shades of red and purple with either a yellow or a black center in April. It is hardiest in USDA Zones 4 through 8. There are several cultivated varieties including Eastern Star, Magenta Queen, Persian Pearl, Violacea, and Violacea Black Base.
  • Tulipa praestans fusilier grows about eight to twelve inches high. Each stem produces from three to five dark scarlet-orange flowers in April. It is hardiest in USDA Zones 3 through 8.
  • Tulipa pulchella grows about four to six inches tall. It has reddish-purple fragrant flowers in early spring and is hardiest in USDA Zones 5 through 8. Its most popular cultivar is the Persian Pearl.
  • Tulipa turkestanica, is also known as the Turkistan tulip. It grows about seven to eight inches high. Each stem produces about a dozen of white, star-shaped flower with orange-yellow centers. It has bluish gray leaves and is hardy in USDA Zones 3 through 8.

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