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Tulips Bloom in April
The National Capital Parks

          In Washington, D.C., tulips bloom from early April to the first week of May. In the Netherlands, where the tulip industry has been thriving for more than 350 years, the season can extend twice that long under the cool, overcast skies of northern Europe. Even though our climate is hotter than the Netherlands, the National Park Service gets spectacular results in its seasonal floral displays by planting in masses and carefully choosing from among several hundred varieties of tulips cultivated today. Nearly 100 varieties of tulips can be seen in one location called the tulip library near the north side of the Tidal Basin between the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. Since it was established in 1969, the tulip library has become a popular place to make comparisons of color and shape between different types of tulips planted in individually numbered beds. A smaller library is maintained at the Netherlands Carillon on the Virginia shore of the Potomac River between the northern end of Arlington National Cemetery.
          Tulips make up the biggest part of the total spring planting in the National Capital Parks. For the 1995 season, a total of 327,600 spring bulbs were planted, including 251,900 tulips, 42,200 daffodils, 29,850 muscari, 3,600 hyacinth and 50 anemone. National Park Service gardeners prepare the beds and hand-plant the bulbs in November throughout the Nation's Capital. In order to achieve uniform results in flower size, height and blooming period, new tulip bulbs are imported from the Netherlands and planted each year.
          The bulbs are graded to a uniform size of 12 cm. and up (ie: the circumference of the smallest bulb is 12 cm and some may be as much as 13 or 14 cm in circumference) and planted in a uniform, well-drained soil at the same depth (4-6 inches) and spacings (6-8 inches). After blooming, the bulbs are removed and the beds planted with summer annuals.
           In home gardens where uniformity is not critical, bulbs can remain in the garden for 2-4 years after which the plantings become crowded (ie: small or no flowers). After the leaves have ripened the bulbs can be taken up and only the best bulbs replanted or they can be discarded and new bulbs planted in the fall.

Tulip History

           Centuries ago, the tulip graced the royal courts of Turkey and it is from this part of the world that the tulip originally came to Europe. Even the word tulip originated in Turkey. It was derived from "dulband" which meant turban and somewhat described the shape of the flower.           Its introduction into Europe dates back to 1554 and is attributed to a Flemish diplomat who, after visiting the court of Sultan Soliman, The Magnificent, dispatched bulbs to Vienna. Over a period of years, the tulip moved in successive stages throughout Europe where it captured the fancy of gardeners, naturalists and apothecaries.
           By the year 1600, tulip bulbs had been experimented with as a source of food and medicine, but were found to be failures for such purposes. They quickly became the favorites of garden hobbyists and most of the modern garden tulips are the result of extensive horticultural breeding and selection begun by European gardeners during the latter half of the sixteenth century. Tulips probably came to America with the earliest settlers. Nowhere did the tulip find a permanent home as it did in the Netherlands, where the soils and stable climate are ideal for cultivating tulips.
          The Dutch made the tulip the cornerstone of an industry that has lasted over 350 years and today ranks first and foremost in the production of tulips. Today there are over 3000 registered cultivars, but only some 400 are popular amongst gardeners and available commercially.

Classes of Tulips

          Cultivated tulips generally are referred to by their flowering period as early, middle, or late April. They are grouped into 15 distinct classes described as follows:

1. Single Early Tulips: The word single implies that cultivars in this class have only one flower with six petals. Average plant height: 8-12 inches. Flowering early April.

2. Double Early Tulips: Cultivars in this class have in excess of 6 petals, flower early, and have long- lasting flowers with strong stems. They should not be confused with the double late Tulips. Average plant height: 8-12 inches. Flowering early April.

3. Triumph Tulips: The cup-shaped flowers are borne on strong stems and stand up well under poor weather conditions. They also make excellent cut flowers. These are chiefly the result of hybridization between Single Early and Late-Flowering Tulips. Average plant height: 10-16 inches. Flowering mid-April.

4. Darwin Hybrid Tulips: The perfectly shaped flowers that are amongst the biggest of all tulips, makes this class a very popular choice for prepared beds. Their cultivation is very easy and they have strong stems. They are widely used as cut-flowers and are forced in large quantities. This class is chiefly the result of hybridization between Tulipa fosteriana and Darwin tulips. Average plant height: 12-20 inches. Flowering mid-April.

5. Single Late Tulips: All cultivars flower late in the season and have long, strong stems. This class now incorporates the former classes of Breeder, Darwin, and Cottage tulips that were combined. Due to hybridization, the borderlines between these former Classes are no longer visible. Average plant height: 14-30 inches. Flowering late April.

6. Lily-flowered Tulips: These tulips have flowers with pointed reflexed petals on long stems. They are very popular as cut flowers. Average plant height: 14-30 inches. Flowering late April.

7. Fringed Tulips: These tulips have petals that are edged with crystal-shaped fringes. They are becoming increasingly popular due to their elegance and long flower-life. Many are mutants of the Single Late Tulips. Average plant height: 8-30 inches. Flowering late April.

8. Viridiflora Tulips: These tulips are closely related to the Single Late Tulips and, as the name implies, have a green stripe from the base to the terminating point of the petals. They are known for their exceptionally long flowering capability and make very good cut-flowers. Average plant height: 16-24 inches. Flowering late April.

9. Rembrandt Tulips: These tulips originated from Darwin tulips, the colors of which were modified by several kinds of viruses. Initially people did not know that the color variation was caused by viruses and fantastic prices were paid for these tulips in the 17th and 18th century. At the present time, the original Rembrandt tulips are not cultivated anymore. Flowering late April.

10. Parrot Tulips: This class is well-known for its unusual feather-like flowers. Whatever the color may be, most flowers will have a green spot in the middle base of the petals. They are particularly sensitive to poor weather conditions and should be planted in protected areas. Average plant height: 12-16 inches. Flowering late April.

11. Double Late Tulips (Peony Flowered Tulips): This class has very few cultivars, but is especially interesting because the double flowers are quite similar to peonies. The big flowers are particularly sensitive to severe rain and wind and should be planted in protected locations. Average plant height: 12-16 inches. Flowering late April.

12. Kaufmanniana: Tulips in this class have been developed from the Tulipa kaufmanniana species, which is native to Turkestan. They are the very earliest to flower in Washington, D.C., sometimes as early as March. The flowers on short stems open in sunlight to form an almost flat hexagonal star. They are well suited for rock gardens and can be kept in the ground where they easily multiply. Flowering early April. Average plant height: 4-8 inches.

13. Fosteriana: Tulips in this class are hybrids developed from the tulips native to the mountains of Central Asia. They flower early, are very vigorous and can be left in the ground where they easily multiply. Flowering early April. Average plant height: 10-20 inches.

14. Greigii: Tulips in this class have been developed from the Tulipa greigii species which is native to Turkestan. The stems are rigid and have medium-sized flowers that open out wide in the sun to reveal a deep colored, often black heart. The leaves are almost always purple-striped or marked. The bulbs prefer to be left in the ground to multiply naturally and to form compact groups for later flowering. Flowering early April. Average Plant height: 8-12 inches.

15. Other Botanical (species) and their varieties and hybrids: Botanical tulips, each a separate species, are included in this class. They are rarely planted in large masses as their main feature is their uniqueness. All are suitable for rock gardens and small group plantings and prefer to be left in the ground to multiply naturally. Some of the more popular species available commercially include:

Tulipa acuminata: This is a very old species, probably of garden origin, with long, narrow, yellow and red marbled flowers with petals that terminate in fringed points. Average plant height: 16-20 inches. Flowering mid-April. Tulipa bakeri "Lilac Wonder": This is a relatively new variety developed from Tulipa bakeri. This selection has small lilac-pink flowers that open out into stars with a orange-yellow heart. Flowering mid-April. Average plant height: 6-8 inches.

Tulipa batalinii: This species is native to Turkestan and has produced the cultivar "Bronze Charm". This is practically the only one cultivated. The flowers are golden yellow with a red hue, with pointed petals that are star-shaped when open. Flowering mid-April. Average plant height: 6 inches.

Tulipa chrysantha: This species is native to the mountains of Afghanistan, where it can be found at an altitude of 3000 meters. The flowers are yellow-red and the foliage is bluish-green and very narrow. Flowering mid-April. Average plant height: 6-8 inches.

Tulipa clusiana: This species is native to Persia and Afghanistan. The flowers are vertically striped red-pink and white, and when open, the pointed petals forms a star. Flowering mid-April. Average plant height: 12-14 inches.

Tulipa eichleri: This species is native to the mountains of the Caucasus. They have big, red and yellow striped flowers with the petals terminating in points. This is a vigorous plant that multiplies rapidly. Flowering early April. Average plant height: 10-12 inches.

Tulipa kolpakowskiana: This species is native to Turkestan. It has small yellow flowers that are flushed red on the outside petals. Flowering mid-April. Average plant height: 6-8 inches.

Tulipa linifolia: This species is native to South Russia. It has big flowers that are brilliant red, almost florescent, a color not found amongst any other species. The pointed petals open in the sun, curving back to form an elegant chalice with a brilliant black heart. Flowering late April. Average plant height: 4-6 inches.

Tulipa marjoletti: This species is native to Savoy. The flowers have pointed petals and are yellow and bright red flamed. Flowering late April. Average plant height: 20-24 inches.

Tulipa pulchella violacea: This species is native to Asia Minor. It is a dwarf species with big, globular purple violet flowers that open to stars. It prefers to be planted in a sheltered place. Flowering early April. Average plant height: 5-6 inches.

Tulipa saxatilis: This species is native to Crete. The flowers are mauve-pink with yellow bases that open in the sun to form stars. The foliage tends to be rampant. Flowering early April. Average plant height: 12-14 inches.

Tulipa tarda: This species is native to Turkestan. The flowers are golden yellow with a white tip. Each stem has 5-6 flowers which are star-shaped when open. It multiplies rapidly into compact groups and makes a good carpeting plant. Flowering early April. Average plant height: 8-10 inches.

Tulipa turkestanica: This species is native to Turkestan. The 7-9 flowers per stem are white and cream with pointed petals when open. The plant has narrow bluish leaves. It rapidly multiplies into compact groups.

Tulipa urumiensis: This species is native to Iran and is one of the shortest dwarf tulips. The flowers are bright yellow and open in the sun. This species is not vigorous and tends to wear out easily.

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