An Extravagance of Tulips

April 3, 2023

As spring arrives, some of the first flowers you’ll see blooming at Lincoln Park Zoo will be tulips, whose arrival will herald the coming of the season. These colorful, cup-shaped blooms are one of the easiest flowers to grow, and you can expect to see them everywhere on grounds by late April or early May—or maybe even earlier, if there’s warm weather in March. They only bloom for 7-10 days, but our Horticulture staff has planted numerous species so you’ll see them throughout early to late spring.

Akebono, Antionette, and Sunset Tropical tulips.

Tulip Talk

These flowers are part of the lily family and have edible petals. In fact, they were used as food during he Dutch famine during World War II. They originate in the Tien Shan Mountains, where China and Tibet border Russia and Afghanistan, and were cultivated in Turkey as far back as 1055. They even became the symbol of the Ottomans. It was the Dutch who figured out that tulips don’t grow very quickly from seeds, but bulbs can flower in under a year.

There are more than 3,000 varieties of tulips from around the world, belonging to around 150 species. Some are natural, while others have been cultivated. The flowers come in many different colors, including “Queen of the Night” tulips; these have petals that are so dark purple they almost look black.

Night and Passion tulips.

Tulip Mania

When tulips first arrived in Europe in the mid-1500s, they became quite the craze. In fact, their arrival in Netherlands caused “Tulip Mania,” a frenzy caused when demand exceeded supply. By 1610, historians report, a single bulb of a new variety was acceptable as a dowry for a bride, and an entire French brewery was exchanged for one Tulipe Brasserie bulb. The market peaked around 1636, but crashed the following year.

Some sources say that this caused widespread havoc for many, including regular families who had entered the tulip market in hopes of capitalizing on their popularity, but others claim that Dutch Calvinists exaggerated the effects of the calamity in order to spread their views about the ungodliness of great wealth.

The event even spurred a 2017 film called “Tulip Fever,” which featured actors like Judi Dench, Cara Delvingne, Dane DeHaan, Zach Galifianakis, and Alicia Vikander.

Banja Luka tulips.

Tulips at Lincoln Park Zoo

These are perennial flowers, but many years of hybridization—and the fact that climate conditions in North America are not the same as the conditions in Asia where the plant developed—have weakened their ability to return every year. So, Lincoln Park Zoo’s Horticulture department plants new bulbs every year. Tulips are planted in the autumn about six to eight weeks before the ground freezes.

When you arrive this spring to enjoy the natural beauty on-grounds, you’ll be able to take in 10 different varieties of tulips. Look for them all:

  • Fiery Club tulips with velvety red colors and yellow streaks
  • French Blend tulips in many colors
  • Hugs and Kisses tulips in creamy white with pink-rimmed petals
  • Tulip Ronaldos, with smoky dark purple petals
  • Tulip PowerPlay, with brilliant red colors and golden trim on their petals
  • Apricot Impression tulips with dusky pink exteriors and apricot interiors
  • Tulip Pinotage, with purple and pink petals
  • Boysenberry Delight tulips, with purple and white colors
  • Drumline tulips, with gorgeous deep red petals that fade to white

Look in places like around the West Gate and the East Gate, over by the carousel, near the donor garden by Safari Café, in front of Laflin Administrative Center, in the parking circle in front of Café Brauer and by Eadie Levy’s Landmark Café. You’ll also find them at certain places near zoo habitats, including Regenstein Small Mammal–Reptile House, Regenstein Center for African Apes, Helen Brach Primate House and the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo. Happy spring!

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