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Tulips - A Varied History, Brilliant Colours and Graceful Shapes

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Purple Tulips

Why are Tulips so Popular with Gardeners?

One of the most appealing flowers to gardeners and flower lovers throughout the world is the tulip with its brilliant colours and graceful shape, and they can be found growing wild in parts of Europe, Asia and North Africa. Holland has been the chief growing country ever since the 17th-Century when tulips started to become highly fashionable. In fact, during the 1630s the Dutch people had such a passion for tulips that one bulb of a new variety could be sold for a huge amount of money. During this time some people in Holland made vast sums of money while others lost everything buying and selling tulips. The passion for tulips also affected some from England and Turkey but not to the same extent. England's height of tulip popularity was in about 1710.

Tulips belong to the lily family, Liliaceae, and are generally grown from bulbs rather than from seeds. Cultivated tulip bulbs usually bear just one flower at the top of a long stem. It is at the lower part of this green stem that two large leaves grow out which are normally wide and thick. The tulip flower is cup-shaped when open and has three sepals and three petals, all looking alike. The petals can be rounded or pointed, or have wavy edges like a fringe.

Tulip colours are rich and varied and include pinks and reds of all shades through to a very dark purple which is often called black. Tulips can also be pale cream to golden yellow in colour. Occasionally, some tulips have two colours with stripes and others have a patch of a different colour which is sometimes black. This can be found inside the base of the tulip.

As there are so many varieties and possibilities, certain types of tulips were given names according to the shape of the flowers or the heights of the plant. Some of the popular tulip names are Early Single and Early Double which flower in April and are about 30cms high. The stiff-stemmed tulips - Triumph Tulips - also flower in April and are usually about 50cms tall. Darwin tulips flower later in May and have large flowers whose petals stand apart from each other. One of the tallest tulip varieties is the Cottage Tulip which also flowers in May. This is a tall, hardy tulip with very rounded heads.

Gardeners and flower lovers also like the dwarf tulips which are particularly suited to rock gardens. These only grow to about 20cms and some can have four to five blooms on one stem. Like a lot of other plants and flowers in the garden tulips can have a faint scent or a stronger smell while others have none at all.

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