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Cultivated tulip – Floriade 2005, Canberra
Scientific classification

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Cultivated tulip – Floriade 2005, Canberra
Scientific classification

See text

The tulip is a perennial, bulbous plant with showy flowers in the genus Tulipa, of which around 75 wild species are currently accepted[1] and which belongs to the family Liliaceae.[2] The genus's native range extends west to the Iberian Peninsula, through North Africa to Greece, the Balkans, Turkey, throughout the Levant (Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan) and Iran, North to the Ukraine, southern Siberia and Mongolia, and east to the Northwest of China.[1] The tulip's centre of diversity is in the Pamir, Hindu Kush, and Tien Shan mountains.[3] It is a typical element of steppe and winter-rain Mediterranean vegetation. A number of species and many hybrid cultivars are grown in gardens, as potted plants, or to be displayed as fresh-cut flowers. Tulip cultivars have usually several species in their direct background, but most have been derived from Tulipa suaveolens, often erroneously listed as Tulipa schrenkii. Tulipa gesneriana is in itself an early hybrid of complex origin and is not the same taxon as was described by Conrad Gesner in the 16th century.[1]


A view inside some tulips, showing the stamens and stigmas

Tulips are spring-blooming perennials that grow from bulbs. Depending on the species, tulip plants can grow as short as 4 inches (10 cm) or as high as 28 inches (71 cm). The tulip's large flowers usually bloom on scapes or subscapose[further explanation needed] stems that lack bracts. Most tulips produce only one flower per stem, but a few species bear multiple flowers on their scapes (e.g. Tulipa turkestanica). The showy, generally cup or star-shaped tulip flower has three petals and three sepals, which are often termed tepals because they are nearly identical. These six tepals are often marked on the interior surface near the bases with darker colorings. Tulip flowers come in a wide variety of colors, except pure blue (several tulips with "blue" in the name have a faint violet hue).[4][5]

Tip of a tulip stamen. Note the grains of pollen

The flowers have six distinct, basifixed stamens with filaments shorter than the tepals. Each stigma of the flower has three distinct lobes, and the ovaries are superior, with three chambers.[further explanation needed] The tulip's fruit is a capsule with a leathery covering and an ellipsoid to subglobose shape.[further explanation needed] Each capsule contains numerous flat, disc-shaped seeds in two rows per chamber.[6] These light to dark brown seeds have very thin seed coats and endosperm that does not normally fill the entire seed.[7]

Tulip stems have few leaves, with larger species tending to have multiple leaves. Plants typically have 2 to 6 leaves, with some species having up to 12. The tulip's leaf is strap-shaped, with a waxy coating, and leaves are alternately arranged on the stem; these fleshy blades are often bluish green in color.


Although tulips are often associated with the Netherlands, commercial cultivation of the flower began in early Persia probably somewhere in the 10th century.[1] Early cultivars must have emerged from hybridisation in gardens from wild collected plants, which were then favoured, possibly due to flower size or growth vigour. During the Ottoman Empire, numerous tulips were cultivated and bred.[8] Tulips are called lale (from Persian لاله, lâleh) in Farsi, Turkish, Arabic, Macedonian and Bulgarian are written with the same letters as Allah, which is why the flower became a holy symbol. It was also associated with the House of Osman, resulting in tulips being widely used in decorative motifs on tiles, mosques, fabrics, crockery, etc.[1]

The word tulip, which earlier appeared in English in forms such as tulipa or tulipant, entered the language by way of French: tulipe and its obsolete form tulipan or by way of Modern Latin tulīpa, from Ottoman Turkish tülbend ("muslin" or "gauze"), and is ultimately derived from the Persian: دلبندdelband ("Turban"), this name being applied because of a perceived resemblance of the shape of a tulip flower to that of a turban.[9] This may have been due to a translation error in early times, when it was fashion in the Ottoman Empire to wear tulips on their turbans. The translator possibly confused the flower for the turban.[1]


On this illustration on the right is shown a tulip's fruit.

Tulips are indigenous to mountainous areas with temperate climates and need a period of cool dormancy, known as vernalization. They thrive in climates with long, cool springs and dry summers. Although perennials, tulip bulbs are often imported to warm-winter areas of the world from cold-winter areas, and are planted in the fall to be treated as annuals.

Tulip bulbs are typically planted around late summer and fall, in well-drained soils, normally from 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) deep, depending on the type planted.


Tulips can be propagated through bulb offsets, seeds or micropropagation.[10] Offsets and tissue culture methods are means of asexual propagation for producing genetic clones of the parent plant, which maintains cultivar genetic integrity. Seed-raised plants show greater genetic variation, and seeds are most often used to propagate species and subspecies or to create new hybrids. Many tulip species can cross-pollinate with each other, and when wild tulip populations overlap geographically with other tulip species or subspecies, they often hybridize and create genetically mixed populations. On the other hand, most commercial tulip cultivars are complex hybrids, and actually sterile. Those hybrid plants that do produce seeds most often have offspring dissimilar to the parents.

Growing saleable tulips from offsets requires a year or more of growth before plants are large enough to flower. Tulips grown from seeds often need five to eight years of growth before plants are flowering size. Commercial growers usually harvest the tulip bulbs in late summer and grade them into sizes; bulbs large enough to flower are sorted and sold, while smaller bulbs are sorted into sizes and replanted, for sale in the future. The Netherlands is the world's main producer of commercially sold tulip plants, producing as many as 3 billion bulbs annually, the majority for export.[11]

Introduction to Western Europe[edit]

Tulip cultivation in the Netherlands

Although it is unknown who first brought the tulip to Northwestern Europe, the most widely accepted story is that it was Oghier Ghislain de Busbecq, an ambassador for Emperor Ferdinand I to Suleyman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire, in the Sublime Porte. He remarked in a letter that he saw "an abundance of flowers everywhere; Narcissus, hyacinths and those in Turkish called Lale, much to our astonishment because it was almost midwinter, a season unfriendly to flowers."[12] However, in 1559, an account by Conrad Gessner described tulips flowering in Augsburg, Bavaria in the garden of Councillor Herwart. Due to the nature of the tulip's growing cycle, tulip bulbs are generally removed from the ground in June and must be replanted by September to endure the winter. While possible, it is doubtful that Busbecq could successfully have had the tulip bulbs harvested, shipped to Germany, and replanted between his first sighting of them in March 1558 and Gessner's description the following year. As a result, Busbecq's account of the supposed first sighting of tulips by a European is possibly spurious.

Carolus Clusius planted tulips at the Imperial Botanical Gardens of Vienna in 1573 and later at the Leiden University's newly established Hortus Botanicus, where he was appointed director. There he planted some of his tulip bulbs in late 1593. As a result, 1594 is considered the official date of the tulip's first flowering in the Netherlands, despite reports of the flowers being cultivated in private gardens in Antwerp and Amsterdam two or three decades earlier. These tulips at Leiden would eventually lead to both Tulip mania and the commercial tulip industry in the Netherlands.[13]

The reproductive organs of a tulip

Another account of the origin of the tulip in Western Europe is of Lopo Vaz de Sampaio, governor of the Portuguese possessions in India. After attempting to usurp power from the rightful governor, Sampaio was forced to return to Portugal in disgrace.[clarification needed] Supposedly, he took tulip bulbs back to Portugal with him from Sri Lanka. This story does not hold up to scrutiny though because tulips do not occur in Sri Lanka and the island itself is far from the route Sampaio's ships would have likely taken.

Regardless of how the flower originally arrived in Europe, its popularity soared quickly. Carolus Clusius is largely responsible for the spread of tulip bulbs in the final years of the sixteenth century. He finished writing the first major work on tulips in 1592, and he made note of the variations in colour that help make the tulip so admired. While occupying a chair as a faculty member in the school of medicine at the University of Leiden, Clusius planted both a teaching garden and private plot of his own with tulip bulbs. In 1596 and 1598, Clusius suffered thefts from his garden, with over a hundred bulbs stolen in a single raid.

Between 1634 and 1637, the early enthusiasm for the new flowers triggered a speculative frenzy now known as the tulip mania. Tulips would become so expensive that they were treated as a form of currency. Around this time, the ceramic tulipiere was devised for the display of cut flowers stem by stem (bouquets displayed in vases were rare until the 19th century, although such vases and bouquets, usually including tulips, often appeared in Dutch still-life painting). To this day, tulips are associated with the Netherlands, and the cultivated forms of the tulip are often called "Dutch tulips." In addition to the tulip industry and tulip festivals, the Netherlands has the world's largest permanent display of tulips at Keukenhof, although the display is only open to the public seasonally.

Introduction to the United States[edit]

It is believed the first tulips in the United States were grown near Spring Pond at the Fay Estate in Lynn and Salem, Massachusetts. From 1847 to 1865, a historic land owner named Richard Sullivan Fay, Esq., one of Lynn's wealthiest men, settled on 500 acres (2.0 km2) located partly in present-day Lynn and partly in present-day Salem. While there, Mr. Fay imported many different trees and plants from all parts of the world and planted them among the meadows of the Fay Estate.[14]


Variegated colours produced by TBV or Tulip Breaking Virus

Botrytis tulipae is a major fungal disease affecting tulips, causing cell death and eventually the rotting of the plant.[15] Other pathogens include anthracnose, bacterial soft rot, blight caused by Sclerotium rolfsii, bulb nematodes, other rots including blue molds, black molds and mushy rot.[16]

The fungus Trichoderma viride can infect tulips, producing dried leaf tips and reduced growth, although symptoms are usually mild and only present on bulbs growing in glasshouses.[17]

Variegated varieties admired during the Dutch tulipomania gained their delicately feathered patterns from an infection with the tulip breaking virus, a mosaic virus that was carried by the green peach aphid, Myzus persicae. These aphids were common in European gardens of the seventeenth century. While the virus produces fantastically colourful flowers, it also causes weakened plants prone to decline.

Today the virus is almost eradicated from tulip growers' fields. Tulips that are affected by mosaic virus are called "broken tulips"; while such tulips can occasionally revert to a plain or solid colouring, they will remain infected with the virus. While some modern varieties also display multicoloured patterns, the patterns result from breeding selection for a genetic mutation. In these tulips, natural variation in the upper and lower layers of pigment in the flower are responsible for the patterns.

Art and culture[edit]

In Persia, the gift of a red or yellow tulip was a declaration of love, the flower's black center representing a heart burned by passion.[18] In classic and modern Persian literature, special attention has been given to these flowers and in recent times, tulips have featured in the poems of Simin Behbahani. However, the tulip was a topic for Persian poets as far back as the thirteenth century. Musharrifu'd-din Saadi,[clarification needed] in his poem Gulistan, described a visionary, garden paradise with 'The murmur of a cool stream / bird song, ripe fruit in plenty / bright multicoloured tulips and fragrant roses...'[19]

An Iranian coin with Tulip

During the Ottoman Empire, the tulip became very popular in Ottoman territories and was seen as a symbol of abundance and indulgence. In fact, the era during which the Ottoman Empire was wealthiest is often called the Tulip era or Lale Devri in Turkish.

Tulips became popular garden plants in the east and west, but, whereas the tulip in Turkish culture was more or less a symbol of paradise on earth and had almost a divine status, in the Netherlands it represented the briefness of life.[1]

The Black Tulip is the title of a historical romance by the French author Alexandre Dumas, père. The story takes place in the Dutch city of Haarlem, where a reward is offered to the first grower who can produce a truly black tulip.

Today, Tulip festivals are held around the world, including in the Netherlands and Spalding, England.There is also a very popular festival, in Morges, Switzerland. Every spring, there are several tulip festivals in North America, including the Tulip Time Festival in Holland, Michigan, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Skagit Valley, Washington, the Tulip Time Festival in Orange City and Pella, Iowa, and the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa, Canada. Tulips are now also popular in Australia and several festivals are held in September and October, during the Southern Hemisphere's spring.

Scientific classification[edit]

Scientifically, the genus Tulipa was traditionally divided into two sections, Eriostemones, and Leiostemones (syn. Tulipa),[20] and comprises ca 76 species.[1]

In 1997 the two sections were raised to subgenera and subgenus Tulipa was divided into five sections, Clusianae, Eichleres, Kopalkowskiana, Tulipanum and Tulipa. Eichleres were in turn subdivided into eight series. Subgenus Eriostemones was divided into three sections, Biflores, Sylvestres, and Saxatiles. Other classifications do however exist. In 2009 two other subgenera were proposed, Clusianae and Orithyia,[21] and this total of four subgenera was corroborated by a recent study (Christenhusz et al. 2013[1]). That study did not find support for any of the previous sections proposed, and since hybridisation is relatively common, it is probably better to refrain from subdividing the subgenera any further. Some species formerly classified as Tulipa are now considered to be in a separate genus, Amana, a genus more closely allied to Erythronium including Amana edulis (Tulipa edulis).

Horticultural classification[edit]

'Yonina' is a Division 6 cultivar
'Flaming Parrot' is a division 10 cultivar

In horticulture, tulips are divided up into fifteen groups (Divisions) mostly based on flower morphology and plant size.[22][23]

They may also be classified by their flowering season:[26]


A number of names are based on naturalised garden tulips, and are usually referred to as neo-tulipae. These are often difficult to trace back to their original cultivar, and in some cases have been occurring in the wild for many decades. The history of naturalisation is unknown, but populations are usually associated with agricultural practices and are possibly linked to saffron cultivation. Some neo-tulipae have been brought into cultivation, and are often offered as botanical tulips. These cultivated plants can be classified into two Cultivar Groups: 'Grengiolensis Group', with picotee tepals, and the 'Didieri Group' with unicolourous tepals.

Tulipa agenensis, Israel

List of species[edit]

Christenhusz classification showing all four subgenera[1]

Subgenus Clusianae[edit]

Subgenus Orithyia[edit]

Subgenus Tulipa[edit]

Tulipa agenensis in Jerusalem forest, Israel

Subgenus Eriostemones[edit]

Note: The horned tulip, often offered in the trade as Tulipa acuminata is in fact a cultivar, unknown from the wild, and should be distributed under its correct cultivar name: Tulipa ‘Cornuta’.

Species not belonging to the genus Tulipa; classified in other genera[edit]


Tulipanin is an anthocyanin found in tulips. It is the 3-rutinoside of delphinidin. The chemical compounds named tuliposides and tulipalins can also be found in tulips and are responsible for allergies.[27] Tulipalin A, or α-methylene-γ-butyrolactone, is a common allergen, generated by hydrolysis of the glucoside tuliposide A. It induces a dermatitis that is mostly occupational and affects tulip bulb sorters and florists who cut the stems and leaves.[28] Tulipanin A and B are toxic to horses, cats and dogs.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Christenhusz, Maarten J.M.; Govaerts, Rafaël; David, John C.; Hall, Tony; Borland, Katherine; Roberts, Penelope S.; Tuomisto, Anne; Buerki1, Sven; Chase, Mark W.; Fay, Michael F. (2013). "Tiptoe through the tulips – cultural history, molecular phylogenetics and classification of Tulipa (Liliaceae)". Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 172 (3): 280–328. doi:10.1111/boj.12061. 
  2. ^ "Tulipa in Flora of North America @". Efloras.org. Retrieved 2009-12-07. 
  3. ^ King, Michael (2005). Gardening with Tulips. Portland, OR: Timber Press. p. 16. ISBN 0-88192-744-9. 
  4. ^ King, p.164
  5. ^ Tenenbaum, Frances, ed. (2003). Taylor's Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. Houghton Mifflin. p. 395. ISBN 0-618-22644-3. 
  6. ^ Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 2002. Flora of North America. North of Mexico Vol. 26, orchidales. New York: Oxford University Press. Page 199
  7. ^ Botschantzeva, Z. P. (1982). Tulips: taxonomy, morphology, cytology, phytogeography and physiology. CRC Press. p. 120. ISBN 90-6191-029-3. 
  8. ^ Ahmet Eken, Artık Göremediğimiz Bir Çiçek ; İstanbul Lâlesi, Hedef, Nisan 2002 : 83
  9. ^ Tulip in Etymplogy Online. accessed May 2012.
  10. ^ Nishiuchi, Y. 1986. "Multiplication of Tulip Bulb by Tissue Culture in vitro" Acta Hort. (ISHS) 177:279–284
  11. ^ "Tulipa spp". Floridata. Retrieved 2009-12-07. 
  12. ^ Blunt, Wilfrid. Tulipomania. p. 7. 
  13. ^ "How A Turkish Blossom Enflamed the Dutch Landscape". Nytimes.com. 2001-03-04. Retrieved 2012-03-14. 
  14. ^ The Daily Item, Lynn, Mass. Independent Newspaper, January 24, 1952
  15. ^ A. Leon Reyes, T.P. Prins, J.-P. van Empel, J. M. van Tuyl ISHS Acta Horticulturae 673: IX International Symposium on Flower Bulbs. Differences in Epicuticular Wax Layer in Tulip Can Influence Resistance to Botrytis Tulipae
  16. ^ Westcott, Cynthia, and R. Kenneth Horst. 1979. Westcott's Plant disease handbook. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. ISBN 0-442-23543-7 page 709.
  17. ^ "Growing Info About Tulips Flower Bulbs". Retrieved 15 October 2013. 
  18. ^ Meaning of flowers, accessed May 2012.
  19. ^ Pavord, Anna. 1999. The Tulip. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. ISBN 1-58234-013-7 page 31.
  20. ^ Southern, David I. (1967). "Species relationships in the genus Tulipa". Chromosoma 23: 80. doi:10.1007/BF00293313. 
  21. ^ Zonneveld, Ben J. M. (2009). "The systematic value of nuclear genome size for "all" species of Tulipa L. (Liliaceae)". Plant Systematics and Evolution 281: 217. doi:10.1007/s00606-009-0203-7. 
  22. ^ Brickell, Christopher, and Judith D. Zuk. 1997. The American Horticultural Society A–Z encyclopedia of garden plants. New York, N.Y.: DK Pub. ISBN 0-7894-1943-2 page 1028.
  23. ^ "Tulips". The Plant Expert. 2008-10-15. Retrieved 2012-03-14. 
  24. ^ Pavord, A., The Tulip, Bloomsbury, 1999, p352 ISBN 0-7475-4296-1
  25. ^ The Western Garden Book (Third ed.). Menlo Park, CA: Lane Magazine & Book Company. June 1972. pp. 448.
  26. ^ Jauron, Richard. "Iowa State University: Tulip Classes". Ipm.iastate.edu. Retrieved 2012-03-14. 
  27. ^ Christensen, LP; Kristiansen, K (1999). "Isolation and quantification of tuliposides and tulipalins in tulips (Tulipa) by high-performance liquid chromatography". Contact dermatitis 40 (6): 300–9. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0536.1999.tb06080.x. PMID 10385332. 
  28. ^ Sasseville, D (2009). "Dermatitis from plants of the new world". European Journal of Dermatology 19 (5): 423–30. doi:10.1684/ejd.2009.0714. PMID 19487175. 
  29. ^ "ASPCA | Tulip". ASPCA. Retrieved 4/1/13. 

Further reading[edit]

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