Log Homes Today

Full-Text Publications
   Tulip Report - 1914

General Works
Tulip History
Museum Catalogs
Old Bulb Catalogs

Tulip Report - Images
Tulip Report - pt iv - 14

Change Font Size:
Increase font size Decrease font size Restore default font size
 Report of the Tulip Nomenclature Committee, 1914-1915 - Intro to Classification

Report of the Tulip Nomenclature Committee, 1914-1915

Return to: Home Page of the Report of the Tulip Nomenclature Committee, 1914-15..

By A. D. HALL, M.A..F.R.S.

THE garden Tulip began to be cultivated in Western Europe towards the middle of the sixteenth century. It came to us from the Turks, with whom it had already been for a long time in cultivation. It is supposed to have originated near Baghdad, and Turkish manuscripts of the fourteenth century are known in which many varieties possessing the special characteristics of the modern flower are enumerated.

When the Tulip reached Europe it was already made a garden flower, presumably of composite origin, but the sources are quite lost, and none of the species which have latterly been discovered in the East can be fixed upon as the probable parents of the garden flower. A composite origin seems to be indicated not only by the great range of variation, but by the differences in the time of flowering which tend to segregate garden Tulips into two main groups flowering with us at intervals of nearly a month, by the presence or absence of yellow pigment, and by the occasional occurrence of flowers possessing a strong scent like that of T. sylvestris. A genetic classification of the garden Tulips thus becomes impossible with our ignorance of origins, and the only other scientific basis remaining would be one founded upon colour.

Four sources of colour may be traced. Firstly, in nearly all Tulips. the ovary is surrounded by a central blotch, formed by the lower portions of each petal and approximating to a circle in shape, of a different colour from the rest of the flower. This base is deep blue or black in many forms, but it varies enormously in intensity, and may be entirely absent, so as to leave a circle of pure white or yellow. Only in a few of the true white or yellow selfs is the base indistinguishable from the rest of the petal. The shape and extent of the base may also vary considerably, though it is always symmetrical. In speaking of the colour of the Tulip the base is not taken into account.

Secondly, the Tulip possesses a sap pigment, located in the cells of the mesophyll only. This pigment may be white or yellow, and it is, except for the basal colour, the only one present in the true white or yellow selfs.

Thirdly, there is present in the epidermis of many Tulips an anthocyanin pigment, which varies through all shades of rose, red, and purple. That this anthocyanin pigment is confined to the epidermis may be easily "ascertained by stripping the skin from the upper and lower surfaces of any garden Tulip other than the self yellows or whites, when the colouring will be found to have come off with the skin. This anthocyanin pigment tends to become a little more intense and to change a little in the direction of purple as the individual bloom ages. If it is superimposed upon white mesophyll it becomes the typical colour of that Tulip; superimposed upon a yellow ground it forms the true scarlets, oranges, and light and dark browns, which characterize the Tulips called 'Bizarres.'

Lastly, there is in some Tulips a second yellow pigment, related, however, to the anthocyanins and present in the epidermis alongside of the normal red or purple. This gives the flower a flushed or "shot" effect, often very beautiful. This latter yellow pigment bleaches rapidly, and may even disappear as the bloom ages.

Breaking -- Breeder and Broken Tulips

One other colour property of the Tulip, a very special one, must be dealt with here: that is the process known as "breaking." When a Tulip seedling first blooms, if it contains any anthocyanin pigments, i.e. red or purple, that colour will be uniformly diffused all over the surface of the segments, and the result is a self-coloured flower (save for the base) known as a "breeder." This bulb and those which arise from offsets in succeeding years remain similarly breeders, but sooner or later some, and doubtless eventually all, will undergo a remarkable change, known as "breaking."

In the broken flower the anthocyanin pigment is no longer diffused all over the surface, but is segregated into stripes up the middle of each segment or fine featherings upon its edges. Often the shade changes somewhat on breaking; as a rule it becomes more intense.

The offsets from a bulb that has thrown a broken flower will always be broken. As far. as is known, reversion to the breeder state never takes place; though the markings of broken colour, which vary considerably in shape and distribution from year to year, may with age almost overspread the whole segment, still these heavy broken flowers are always to be distinguished from the true breeders.

Breaking is accompanied by other changes in the plant. The leaves generally show a distinct mottling in the green; the stem possesses markings of anthocyanin pigment; the size, height, and vigour of the plant are reduced, and it does not throw offsets so freely. The cause of breaking remains unknown; change of soil, a hot and dry situation accelerate it, but we are acquainted with no method of preventing it. It is a property of all garden Tulips containing the anthocyanin pigment, i.e. of all except the white and yellow selfs.

This property of breaking adds greatly to the difficulty of classifying Tulips for garden purposes; the breeder and the broken or rectified flowers arising from it are so distinct that their common origin, indeed identity, would not be suspected, and they subserve quite different purposes in the garden.

Classification of Tulips

Hence, a scientific classification based upon colour becomes as impossible as one based upon origin, and the Committee has fallen back upon a purely empirical classification based upon garden convenience alone. This aims at bringing into the same class flowers which "match" and possess similar habits, such as time of flowering, style of growth, colour, and shape. As a rule, flowers in the same class will be more nearly related than flowers in dînerent classes, though varieties of common origin may have to go into different classes, and some varieties have to be placed rather arbitrarily on one side or other of the dividing line. The classification begins by dividing the garden Tulips into early and late flowering, in practice a good division, though one or two intermediate varieties, like 'Le Rêve,' exist and others may be expected. Certain races like the 'Van Thols' may be distinguished among the earlies; some of them break, and quite a number of double forms exist.

Breeder Tulips

The Breeders or self-coloured Tulips have already been defined. Though they all originate from a common stock and have much in common, they are subdivided into three sections: Dutch, English, and Darwins.

Dutch Tulips

The Dutch represent the old parent stock; they show all shades of rose and purple (called 'Bybloemen') which have white grounds, and again all shades of scarlet and brown, the 'Bizarres,' which possess a yellow ground. The bases may be of any shade of blue down to pure white; the form, sometimes a true cup, is generally egg-shaped when not fully expanded, with somewhat long and even pointed petals.

English Tulips

The English Tulips were segregated from the original Dutch stock during the early years of the nineteenth century by the labours of the English florists who insisted and refined upon certain points of excellence that had already been recognized by the Dutch florists. The segments must be broad and rounded and open to a true cup, approximately a hemisphere; the colours are generally clearer and brighter than those of the Dutch breeders, and the base must always be clean white or yellow without any trace of blue. They are sub-divided into 'Roses' (all shades of pink and rose), 'Bybloemen' (purple and violet), both of which possess white grounds and bases, and 'Bizarres' (various shades of scarlet and brown) with yellow grounds and bases. The other distinctive properties of the English Tulip are seen only in the broken state.

Darwin Tulips

Somewhere, it is believed in Flanders, another race was segregated from the original Dutch stock and was introduced into commerce in 1899 by KRELAGE under the name of 'Darwin Tulips.' They possess a stronger constitution than the original stock, grow taller, and have larger flowers of great substance. The shape is also characteristic; the flower segments spring at right angles from the stem and turn again at right angles to form the cup, so that the whole flower possesses a distinctive, squarely built profile (figs. 19, 21). Among the Darwins the yellow ground has been eliminated, so that only shades of rose and purple are recognized. The base may be any shade of blue down to pure white.

Fig. 19 from the Report of the Tulip Nomenclature Committee, 1914-15: Darwin Tulip –Bleu Aimable. Fig. 21 from the Report of the Tulip Nomenclature Committee, 1914-15: Darwisn Tulip – Clara Butt. Fig. 22 from the Report of the Tulip Nomenclataure Committee, 1914-15: Broken English Tulip – Sir Joseph Paxton.

Image Captions -- left to right: Figure 19: Darwin Tulip – 'Bleu Aimable'. Figure 21: Darwin Tulip – 'Clara Butt'. Figure 22: Broken English Tulip – 'Sir Jo seph Paxton'. Click images for larger versions.

Broken Tulips

To the three classes of breeders, Dutch, English, and Darwins, correspond three classes of broken Tulips, for all members of this great group possess the property of breaking.

Dutch Florists' Tulips,/p>

The Dutch broken Tulips usually show considerable irregularity of marking, with streaks and splashes of rose or purple upon a white ground (Bybloemen) or of scarlet and brown upon a yellow ground (Bizarres).

English Florists' Tulips

The English florists insist upon complete distinctness and regularity of marking in the English broken Tulips (fig. 22); they distinguish two types: the "feathered" flowers, in which the marking is confined to a fine pencilling upon the edges of the petals, and "flamed" flowers, which possess a branching beam of colour up the centre of the petal in addition to the feathering upon the edges. Unfortunately, as yet, only a few varieties mark truly from year to year.

Rembrandt Tulips

The broken Darwins, known as "Rembrandt Tulips," are even more irregularly marked than the Dutch; they generally show two shades of colour upon a white ground—splashes of the lighter breeder colour with irregular streaks of a darker shade.

Cottage Tulips

The Cottage class is nothing more than a convenient gathering ground for a number of Tulips from the same general stock which could not be placed in the florist's classes, but which were sufficiently attractive to be kept for garden decoration. It includes the true selfs, white and yellow, which possess no anthocyanin pigment and never break. It also includes races which open with a narrow edge of red upon a white or yellow ground, but as the flower ages the red extends until it flushes over the whole bloom. Among the other sections in the Cottage Tulips is one including various shades of red and crimson, and another including the shades of scarlet, orange, or brown. It should be remembered that all flowers of rose-red, crimson, and purplish shades possess a white ground colour, whereas the true scarlets and all brown shades are due to the same red or purple colours superimposed upon a yellow ground. Lastly we have a group of varying and indeterminate colours, in which the red or purple pigment is "shot" with a yellow shade of varying intensity. Again, there are broken classes for all the Cottage Tulips except the true selfs. Form varies greatly among the Cottage Tulips, and we may distinguish four types: (1) the true cup, as in 'Bouton d'Or' (fig. 1); (2) the long pointed form, often showing a distinct waist, as in 'Mrs. Moon' (fig. 2); (3) the form that is in outline much like a long egg, as in 'John Ruskin' (fig. 3); (4) the form with pointed reflexing segments, giving the flower an outline resembling the heraldic fleur-de-lys, as in retroflexa (fig. 4).

Fig. 1 from the Report of the Tulip Nomenclature Committee, 1914-15: Cottage Tulip – Bouton d’Or. Fig 2 from the Report of the Tulip Nomenclature Committee, 1914-15: Cottage Tulip - Mrs. Moon. Fig 3 from the Report of the Tulip Nomenclature Committee. 1914-15: Cottage Tulip – John Ruskin. Fig. 4 from the Report of the Tulip Nomenclature Committee, 1914-15: Cottage Tulip – Retroflexa.

Cottage Tulip Shapes: Image Captions -- left to right: Figure 1: Cottage Tulip – 'Bouton d’Or' (described as cup shaped); Figure 2: Cottage Tulip - 'Mrs. Moon' (described as pointed). Figure 3: Cottage Tulip – 'John Ruskin' (described as egg-shaped). Figure 4: Cottage Tulip – 'Retroflexa' (described as segments reflexed). Click images for larger versions.

Other Tulips

Double Late Tulips and Parrot Tulips

The Double Late Tulips need no definition. The Parrots include a few varieties with cut and laciniated petals, often showing blotches of green unpigmented tissue. The Parrots are usually marked with scarlet or brown upon a yellow ground, but a few are known with white grounds. As a rule they have weak stems and do not bloom very freely.


As a final group we have to bring together all the true species, not that they possess necessarily anything in common, save the property of breeding true, but simply for convenience. It should be noted that many of the so-called species, which have Latin names in the catalogues, are really garden forms, and are mostly included in the Cottage section. Among such varieties are Gesneriana, vitellina, fulgens, retroflexa. &c.


Synonyms abound among garden Tulips. Sometimes this has been due to accidental or deliberate re-naming; sometimes a broken form has been given a name different from that of the breeder form. The Committee has endeavoured to preserve the best-known name and record all the synonyms, and in the case of broken flowers, to indieate the breeders from which they sprang.

Jump to top of page  Top Link to this page  Link to this page