Frequently Asked Questions
Students' Questions and Experts' Answers
Contributed by Tulip Expert
Mary Meyer
Ways to use in the Classroom

Special thanks to Professor Mary Meyer for providing her time and expertise to respond to your tulip garden questions. This page contains questions and answers from 2012.

Dear Students,
What great questions this year! This was a very unusual spring for so much of the country!

- Mary Meyer

Teachers: You can use today's Answers from the Expert, along with those from previous years, in these activities suggested in "Learning from Experts".

Mary Meyer
Mary Meyer

From: Minnesota

Q: When my tulips started blooming we got a really cold couple of days. The tulip flowers were all bowed down, and their stems curved so the blooms were on the ground. When the temperature got into the 40’s they slowly straightened out and then looked normal. What is happening inside the stems to make them bend over?

A: The cold temperatures did some damage to the cells on the tulip stems. These cells lost some of the water within the cell, since the cold probably damaged the cell membranes, allowing water to escape and the stems lost some of their turgor or rigidity. As the temperatures got warmer, the cell membranes could function normally again, and the cells became rigid and strong.

Q: This year my tulips bloomed with almost no flower stalk. Some of them bloomed inside the leaves. What happened?

A: Red Emperor tulips are known for being short. This year, with the warmer spring temperatures, some of the tulip stems did not lengthen at all before flowering. It’s as if the tulips felt the warm weather and ‘hurried their flowering’. Cooler temperatures, 40 and 50 would mean the stems would elongate before the flowers formed.

Q: We planted tulip bulbs in October. When we dug up a sample in the spring we saw that some bulbs had a second bulb attached! What is going on?

A: Tulips will sometimes make a second bulb, along side the first larger bulb. This is a sign of a strong tulip plant, one that has plenty of food and is storing a lot of food for growing next year.  In ideal growing conditions, every tulip plant would form one or two large bulbs by the end of the spring.

From: Ohio
General Rosecrans Elementary

Q: Our class planted tulips in Oct. for the first time. We have had a really warm winter and we do not have any emerging tulips. Should we be worried? We live near Columbus, OH and would like to know if we will see our tulips this year.

A: WOW! A disappointment to not see any flowers at all! It was cold enough in Ohio for the bulbs to get their cold or chilling requirement, even though your winter was warmer than usual. If you see NOTHING, no leaves at all, then I suspect something, like hungry squirrels may have dug up your bulbs and tried to eat them. You might try digging where you planted them and see if you can find any of the bulbs.

Q: When did the first tulips bloom? and where?

A: Tulips are native or wild in Turkey, a country that lies between Europe and the Middle East. Find Turkey on a world map and you will see it is near the Mediterranean Sea.  Tulips are used to a wet, cool to cold winter, and a dry warmer summer. Tulips are very special to the people of Turkey and they use them for decorations on wallpaper, building tiles and many other places.
Tulips have been growing in and near Turkey for 1,000 of years.

Q: How long are tulips in bloom?

A: If the weather is cool, 40-55 degrees, the flowers will last for 1-2 weeks. If the weather is warmer, above 70 degrees, the flowers may only last for a few days. Tulips like cool weather!

From: Germany
Ms. Woodruff's 2nd graders
Vogelweh Elementary and Neubruecke Elementary

Q:  Why do tulips come from bulbs instead of seeds?

seed pod

A: Actually tulips do form seeds. If you allowed the small swelling just above the petals to develop for several weeks, you would find seeds! But it takes several years for tulip plants to flower when grown from these seeds. Lucky for us, tulips also form a bulb, with stored food underground, so we can grow and propagate tulips from a bulb, that will bloom within 1 year for us!

Q: Why do tulips have to have 6 weeks of COLD temperatures? It seems like COLD weather would not be good for them.

A: This has to do with where tulips originally grew and developed. They originated with a cool or cold winter, followed by a warm, dry summer, when they go dormant. In their home country, Turkey and the Middle East, the weather is wet and cold in the winter, the bulbs grow underground and then make leaves and flowers above the ground in early spring, when growing conditions are good for tulips.  After a few weeks, the weather is hot and dry (in Turkey) and the tulips go dormant, escaping this difficult time of year to live.

Some other plants, like rhubarb, apple and peach trees and peonies also need a cold winter time in order to grow and flower!

From: Virginia
Johnson & Clark ElementarySchools

Q: What fruit do tulips have? by Sofie

A: The fruit of a plant is where the seed is, and tulips do have seeds, they are small and often do not fully develop, because they put their energy into the bulb that grows underground.

If you watch closely after the petals fall, you will see a small ½” swollen part to the top of the stem where the tulip flower was. This is where the seeds can develop if growing conditions are ideal for the tulip.

Q: Are tulips related to any flowers? by Nora

A: YES! Tulips are in the Lily family and are related to lilies, and hosta.

Q: Do some tulips bloom in cold weather? by Tyla

A: Yes, if you consider the spring temperatures of the upper half of the United States, it is cool when tulips bloom. They actually like cool weather!

From: Ohio

Q: I planted fringed tulips fall 2010 and some came up spring 2011 but they don't seem to be coming up this year. What could be causing this to happen?

A: Fringed tulips are hybrid tulips and they do not last as long as other species of tulips. Hybrid tulips are best planted every 2 years or so, they just do not last a long time.

Why is the pollen on the anthers purple? We are leaning in Botany about the pollens that different insects prefer. What insect does the purple pollen of the tulip attract?

A: Pollen color depends on lots of things.  In plants that have been developed by plant breeding, humans have selected the color of the pollen.  The purple pollen was part of selecting for the deep red color of the petals.  We should also remember that bees, the main pollinator of tulips, see color differently than we do.  They see mostly ultraviolet light which is light that we do not see. Therefore the “color” of the pollen to a bee is different than the “color” of the pollen to humans.

Q: I have 30 daffodil bulbs left - can I still plant them or how should I store them until next year?

A: Your daffodil bulbs could still be planted this spring. If they were stored in a cool place over the winter they may still be alive and might grow this spring. They wouldn’t bloom this spring, but if they are given good growing conditions, they may produce flowers in the future.

Tulip Expert, Mary Meyer
Professor and Extension Horticulturist