Tulips are divided into 15 divisions chiefly defined by their flower characteristics and sometimes referred to in bulb catalogues. Broadly speaking, their flowers can be described as single or double; cup-shaped, bowl-shaped or goblet-shaped; fringed, parrot or lily-flowered; long, slender-tepalled or star-shaped.
When choosing tulips, consider their flowering times, suitability for borders, containers (see below), or a rock garden where the smaller species such as Tulipa tarda AGM or T. kaufmanniana can be best utilised. Some are ideal for naturalising in fine grass; in particular, the low-growing tulip T. sprengeri AGM.
Amongst the most popular for bedding, borders or containers:
Tulipa biflora: from late winter, produces fragrant, star-shaped flowers in ones or twos with white petals which are golden-yellow at the base and flushed grey on the undersides. Height 10cm (4in).
T. ‘Mount Tacoma’ (Double Late Group): Pink and green buds open to peony-flowered creamy-white blooms in late spring. Height 40cm (16in).
T. ‘Purissima’ (Fosteriana Group) AGM: Single, bowl-shaped slightly fragrant pure white flowers on sturdy stems produced mid-spring. Height 35cm (14in).
T. ‘Spring Green’ (Viridiflora Group) AGM: Green-feathered ivory-white flowers in late spring. Height 40cm (16in).
T. ‘White Triumphator’ (Lily-flowered Group) AGM: Graceful long-stemmed flowers of pure white. Height 60cm (2ft).
Purple-black or violet-blue flowers:
T. ‘Black Parrot’ (Parrot Group) AGM: Distinctive crimped and curled, cup-shaped single bright violet-blue flowers are shaded bronze on the inside of the petals, borne in late spring. Height 60cm (2ft).
T. ‘Blue Diamond’ (Double Late Group, peony-flowered): Bowl-shaped dark bluish-purple flowers in late spring. Height 40cm (16in).
T. ‘Blue Heron’ (Fringed Group) AGM: Purple-fringed violet-purple flowers, cobalt-violet with white stripes inside the petals during late spring. Height 60cm (2ft).
T. ‘Queen of Night’ (Single Late Group): Velvety dark purple-black cup-shaped flowers in late spring. Height 60cm (2ft).
T. ‘Angelique’ (Double Late Group) AGM: Peony-shaped, full, slightly ruffled shell-pink flowers are suffused darker pink. Height 30cm (1ft).
T. ‘Attila’ (Triumph Group): Single cup-shaped pinkish-purple flowers on strong stems. Good for forcing. Height 40cm (16in).
T. ‘China Pink’ (Lily-flowered Group) AGM: Elegant deep-pink goblet-shaped blooms have white bases inside, with swept-back pointed tips. Height 50cm (20in).
T. ‘Foxtrot’ (Double Early Group): Soft pink flowers with darker undertones. Height 30cm (1ft).
T. ‘Apeldoorn’s Elite’ (Darwin Hybrid Group) AGM: Red-feathered buttercup-yellow flowers flushed yellowish-green at the bases in mid-spring. Height 60cm (2ft).
T. clusiana var. chrysantha AGM: Stems with 1-3 yellow flowers, flushed reddish-brown outside, becoming star-shaped. Height 30cm (1ft).
T. ‘Hamilton’ (Fringed Group) AGM: Buttercup-yellow flowers with darker yellow fringes and anthers in late spring. Height 50cm (20in).
T. ‘Sweetheart’ (Fosteriana Group): Ivory-white flowers with lemon-yellow flames, deep yellow inside. Height 30cm (1ft).
T. ‘West Point’ (Lily-flowered Group) AGM: Primrose yellow flowers in late spring. Height 50cm (20in).
Apricot, crimson or red flowers:
T. ‘Aladdin’ (Lily-flowered Group): Yellow-margined scarlet flowers in late spring. Height 45cm (18in).
T. ‘Apricot Beauty’ (Single Early Group) AGM: Cup-shaped soft salmon-pink flowers, later with orange margins. Good for forcing. Height 35cm (14in).
T. linifolia AGM: bowl-shaped bright red flowers, each petal marked with black at the base. Height 30cm (1ft).
T. ‘Rococo’ (Parrot Group): Ornate green-feathered carmine-red blooms. Height 45cm (1.5ft).
T. praestans ‘Fusilier’ (Miscellaneous Group) AGM: One of the best dwarf varieties with 3-5 heads of bright scarlet-red blooms per bulb. Height 20cm (8in).
For the more rare and unusual species and cultivars from the Miscellaneous Group try:
T. acuminata: Has distinctive long, narrow red and yellow petals. Height 15-20cm (6-8in).
T. humilis ‘Odalisque’: With yellow-centred, beetroot-purple flowers during March and April. Height 10cm (4in).
T. orphanidea Whittallii Group AGM: With bright tangerine-orange flowers blotched olive-green at the base, in April-May. A colourful addition for the rock or alpine garden. Height 30cm (1ft).
T. praestans ‘Red Sun’: Has flask-shaped buds which open to star-shaped pillar-box red flowers from March to April. Height 20cm (8in).
RHS Find a Plant
RHS trial Tulipa, Small-flowered tulips 2006–2008
RHS trial Tulipa, 2008
Group 9, Rembrandt tulips. Streaking is due to a virus that can spread to other tulips - they are seldom grown today except by specialist groups such as the Wakefield and North of England Tulip Society. This watercolour of Tulipa 'The Claude' by Caroline Maria Applebee painted c1815 (copyright: RHS Lindley Library). Applebee was born in London in 1799 and appears to have been the daughter of a wealthy middle-class family that had conservatories and greenhouses.
Group 15, Miscellaneous. A catch-all category for tulip species and their hybrids not placed in other groups. This is Tulipa ingens.
Group 12, Kaufmanniana tulips. Early flowering hybrids of Tulipa kaufmanniana. 15-24cm (6-10in) tall. Flowering March-April.
Group 7, Fringed tulips. These have finged tepals (petals) often in contrasting colours. Variable heights. This example is Tulipa 'Cummins'.
Group 1, Single Early tulips. Single-flowered, 15-40cm (6-16in) tall, flowering late March to early April. This is Tulipa 'Apricot Beauty'.
Group 8, Viridiflora tulips. Flowers with variable amounts of green. Around 45cm (18in) tall. This is Tulipa 'Artist'.
Group 3, Triumph tulips. Hybrids of Single Early and later cultivars; 45-50cm (18-20in) tall, flowering in April. This is Tulipa 'Barcelona'.
Group 11, Double Late tulips. Large peony-like double flowers with many tepals (petals); 45-60cm (18-24in). Flowering in May. This is Tulipa 'Carnaval de Nice'.
Group 10, Parrot tulips. Mutations with deeply divided or slashed tepals (petals). 50-60cm (20-24in) tall, flowering in May. This is Tulipa 'Fantasy'.
Group 4, Darwin Hybrid tulips. Hybrids of Single Late and species tulips; 60-70cm (24-28in) tall, flowering in May. This is Tulipa 'Ollioules', which has a green stripe that rapidy fades as the bloom matures. This particular tulip can also be multiheaded.
Group 5, Single Late tulips. Includes Darwin and Cottage Groups; 60-75 (2ft-30in), flowering in May. This is Tulipa 'Sweet Harmony'.
Group 14, Gregii tulips. Small hybrids of Tulipa gregii often with mottled leaves. 20-30cm (8in-1ft)tall, flowering April. This is Tulipa 'Toronto'.
Group 6, Lily-flowered tulips. Single, long flowers with waisted and pointed tepals (petals). 45-60cm (18in-2ft) tall, flowering May. This is Tulipa 'Westpoint'.
Group 2, Double Early tulips. Fully double flowers, 30-40cm (1ft-16in) tall, flowering in early to mid April. This is Tulipa 'Monte Carlo'.
Group 13, Fosteriana tulips. Single, bowl-shaped flowers to 12cm (5in) across, height 20-65cm (8-26in), flowering mid-spring. This is tulip 'Orange Emperor'