14 Types of Tulips for the Spring Garden

Gardeners have a bewildering choice from among thousands of different tulip cultivars, but for convenience, various commercial bulb suppliers categorize them into defined groups. Knowing these categories can be helpful when you are choosing tulips for your own garden.

The Tulipa genus includes at least 75 species of perennial bulbs, each of which may have hundreds, if not thousands, of cultivars. Most species originated in Southern Europe and Eastern Asia—the name "tulipa" is thought to originate from the Persian word for "turban." But many species have been in cultivation since the 10th Century in Asia (16th Century in Europe), so the original parentage of many modern cultivars is uncertain. To this day, though, most tulips prefer the kind of conditions common to the original native areas—porous, well-draining soil and full sun.

Here are 14 categories of tulips that are of the most interest to today's gardeners.

Gardening Tip

Highly specialized, exotic tulips will always be more short-lived than the "commoners"—the species tulips and the hybrids derived from crossing dependable varieties with a long track record of successful performance. If longevity and low maintenance are important to you, choose varieties that have been around for a long time. They will not only maintain themselves in the garden, but they may even spread and naturalize with no effort on your part.

  • 01 of 14

    Species Tulips (Tulipa spp.)

    little red riding hood tulip species
    AYImages/Getty Images

    So-called "species" tulips are exactly that—pure native species that have not been hybridized or selectively bred to create named cultivars. Species tulips are the king of the naturalizers. While many hybrid tulips lose their vigor and decline over a few years, you can count on species tulips to multiply and form drifts in areas that have good drainage.

    These Mediterranean and Asian natives tend to be petite, sporting flowers that open wide on sunny days and close up on cloudy days. When opened, many of the blossoms reveal a contrasting color star on the petals. As a bonus, many species tulips have attractive mottling or stripes on their foliage.

    • Native Area: Mediterranean regions, southern Eurasia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 3–16 inches (depends on species)
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 02 of 14

    Darwin Hybrid Tulips (Tulipa x)

    tulipa 'gudoshnik' (darwin hybrid tulip), yellow & red flower, april
    Frederic Didillon / Getty Images

    Some of the tallest tulips, up to 34 inches in height, belong to this brilliant class of spring bulbs. Developed in the Netherlands, these were created as a cross between one cultivar of Tulipa fosterina ('Madame Lefeber') and several other existing cultivars. They are a favorite flower for cut-flower arrangements.

    These mid-spring bloomers flower about the same time as most daffodils, and they thrive nicely for several years before losing their vigor. Plant Darwin hybrid tulips beside your house, fence, or shed to provide shelter from stem-snapping winds. If your climate is blustery in the spring, Darwin hybrids are excellent candidates for forcing.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 20 to 34 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 03 of 14

    Triumph Tulips (Tulipa x)

    colorful tulips
    CharlyBLR/Getty Images

    The Triumph category includes the largest selection. When you buy economy bags of mixed-color bulbs, they are most often tulips in this group. These are medium-sized tulips with single-petal flowers in the classic cup shape. These tulips originated as a cross between the original Darwin tulips and tulips from the Single-Early class.

    Available in a wide color of pastels, bright tones, and bi-colors, the reliable Triumph tulip is a garden designer's delight. Plant them deeply, at least 8 inches beneath the soil surface, to encourage several years of performance.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 8–24 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 04 of 14

    Double Tulips (Tulipa x)

    This classification refers to hybrid tulips and their cultivars that have been bred to have fluffier, double-petal flowers rather than the normal single-petal blooms common to classic tulips. Colors include red, white, purple, pink, orange, yellow, and bicolors.

    One subcategory includes the peony tulips, so-called for their resemblance to the classic peony flower. There are varieties that bloom in early spring and late spring, and both short and tall varieties.

    These are fairly long-lasting blooms, and some are good for forcing in pots.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 14–22 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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  • 05 of 14

    Fringed Tulips (Tulipa x)

    Crispa Tulips
    Irina Marwan / Getty Images

    The fringed tulip category includes genetic mutations from tulips in other groups, chosen for the unique serrated, fringed edges on the petals. Because they originate in many different groups, the sizes and blooms times vary considerably within the group.

    If you took a pair of pinking shears to your tulip petals, you’d get a similar effect to this elegant group of tulips. Not seen as often as the widespread Darwin or Emperor tulips, these flowers belong in the front of the flower bed, where you can admire their unusual anatomy. Flower colors include red, pink, white, purple, yellow, and bicolors. The variety ‘Cummins’ stands out in that the deep lavender petals contrast pleasingly with the white fringe.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 16–26 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 06 of 14

    Emperor/Fosteriana Tulips (Tulipa fosteriana)

    Orange Emperor Tulips in Field with Red Barn
    Garden Photo World/Georgianna Lane / Getty Images

    This class of tulips originated with a species of early-blooming tulips native to central Asia. They are known for having huge flowers and vivid, bright colors.

    By the middle of April, emperor tulips give gardeners hungry for blooms a reliable spring show on sturdy stalks. The large flowers and bright colors make these spring bulbs, also known as Fosteriana tulips, perfect for floral arrangements. Colors include red, pink, orange, white, yellow, and bicolors. Try ‘Orange Emperor’, which imparts a sweet fragrance in addition to its vivid petals.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 14–20 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 07 of 14

    Griegii Tulips (Tulipa greigii)

    This category includes cultivars derived from the Tulipa greigii species native to Turkestan. Growing 8 to 12 inches tall, they have single flowers with a bowl shape, blooming in early to mid-spring. Gieigii tulips have spotted and striped leaves that create a striking look in the garden. The flowers are quite large, up to 4 inches. Colors are more limited than with other groups; they include red, yellow, and white.

    Greigii enjoys warm, dry soil in the summer, making these a good choice for rock gardens.

    • Native Area: Turkestan
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 8–12 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 08 of 14

    Kaufmanniana Tulips (Tulipa kaufmanniana)

    Tulips (Tulipa, syn. T. kaufmanniana) 'Stresa'
    Mike Hill / Getty Images

    Modern Kaufmanniana tulips originated from a species native to the region now known as Turkistan. These are long-lived tulips that require very little care. They have a small stature, averaging 6 inches in height, which makes them suitable for areas with high winds where taller tulips are frequently snapped in spring squalls. These tulips perennialize nicely in sunny areas where they don’t have to compete with other plants. Colors include rose, golden yellow, pink, purple, orange, red, and bicolors.

    • Native Area: Turkestan
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 6 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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  • 09 of 14

    Lily-Flowered Tulips (Tulipa x)

    Close-Up Of Yellow Flower Blooming Outdoors
    Maria Urban / EyeEm / Getty Images

    The lily-flowered tulip class includes varieties bred to have pointed petals reminiscent of lily flowers. Your late spring garden should be graced by a dozen or more lily-flowering tulips, with their pointed petals on urn-shaped blossoms. The flowers are tall, bold, and long-blooming. Colors include reds, orange, yellow, white, pink, purple, and bicolors. Enjoy the swirled cream, pink, and green hues of 'Florosa', or plant the heirloom yellow 'West Point' in combination with blue muscari bulbs.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 16–24 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 10 of 14

    Parrot Tulips (Tulipa x)

    Pale Pink Parrot Tulips (Tulipa) 'Sexy Lady'
    Richard Wareham / Getty Images

    This unusual class of tulips includes mutations from certain Late-Flowering and Triumph group tulips. These showy tulips are the flamenco dancers of the garden. Their petals twist, feather, and curl on stems averaging 16 inches in height, giving drama to the late spring garden border. The flowers beg to be added to your vase, but they usually won’t return after the second growing season. Plant a combination of 'Blue Parrot 'and 'Texas Gold' for a head-turning installation in your mailbox garden. Colors include reds, yellow, white, pink, purple, and many bicolors.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 14–22 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 11 of 14

    Single Early Tulips (Tulipa x)

    As the name suggests, this class includes single-petaled tulips that bloom very early in the season, beginning in March. They bloom while the weather is still cool and are known for holding their blooms for a long time. Foliage can then be removed to make room for other garden plantings. Single Early tulips are also ideal for forcing in containers. Colors include red, orange, yellow, white, pink, purple, apricot, and bicolors.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 10–24 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 12 of 14

    Single Late Tulips (Tulipa x)

    This class includes simple single-petaled tulips that bloom later in the spring, generally after all other tulips have faded. Along with the Darwin Hybrids, these are among the tallest tulips, growing nearly 3 feet in height. They have especially sturdy stems that stand up well to windy conditions. Colors include reds, yellow, white, pink, purple, apricot, and bicolors.

    A particular subcategory, the "French" Single Late tulips, have a distinctive oblong-shaped flower. Yet another subcategory, the Multi-Flowering tulips, include varieties with four or more flowers per stem.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 16–30 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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  • 13 of 14

    Viridiflora Tulips (Tulipa x)

    This group of tulips is something of a novelty and is perhaps the least important class, but the uniqueness of these varieties makes them highly prized. The blooms on Viridiflora tulips generally have streaks of green falling over a complementary color. These are fairly late-blooming tulips of moderate size. The blooms can be very large, as much as 3 inches across. These tulips can be especially attractive in vases. Colors include green streaks on pink, orange, yellow, or red.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 12–24 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 14 of 14

    Rembrandt Tulips (Tulipa x)

    This minor but unusual group includes tulip varieties that mix two or even three colors in broken streaks. Originally, Rembrandt tulips were the result of viral infection, but today's varieties are entirely disease-free and bred specifically for their unique look. There is generally one principle color, often red, white, or yellow, with streaks of another color running randomly through the petals. While they look similar to Darwin tulips (many of which are also bicolors), Rembrandts have the classic cup shape with straight edges on the petals. Colors include yellow, white, or red streaked with other colors.

    These are short-lived tulips that will need to be replaced after a year or two.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrids
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 15–24 inches
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun