Parrot tulip, a family of alien jewels for the garden

Sun-like fire of a gold yellow parrot tulip bloom

Parrot tulip is a class of extravagant bulb flowers that bursts to color in spring, truly a spectacular sight.

Parrot tulip key facts

Botanical nameTulipa x gesneriana
FamilyLiliaceae
Type – bulb flower

Height – 1½ foot (45cm)
Planting distance – 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – rich, soft, loose, well-draining, cool to dry

Planting – beginning of fall
Flowering – May to June

With tall foot-and-a-half-high stems (45 cm), the Tulipa × gesneriana Parrot Group boasts fabulous exotic-looking flowers that appear from early May on through June. Each flower averages 5 inches across (12 cm), and what makes them stand out are the ruffled, twisted and fringed petals that come in stupendous colors. Cultivars differ greatly: corollas with mottled colors invoke the bright colors of parrot feathers, hence the “parrot tulip” nickname.

Where to plant parrot tulips?

Parrot tulip bulbs are easy to grow in rich, loose soil that has been well-broken up. It should drain well, but it doesn’t really matter whether it’s on the dry or on the cool side. Since the flowers are so large, landscapers tend to grow them in flower beds that are set to the side or back of the garden. Take note, however, that parrot tulip varieties are generally more fragile. They prefer sunny and partly-sunny exposure, and must grow in spots that are protected from the cold and from harsh weather (wind, rain, etc).

How to plant parrot tulip

A parrot tulip bulb should be planted directly in the ground at the beginning of fall.

  • Bring together 20 to 50 bulbs to create a massive flower cluster.
  • Dig holes 6 inches (15 cm) deep, spacing them 4 inches (10 cm) apart.
  • Using a bulb planter makes planting the parrot tulip bulblets easier with the pointed tip facing upwards.
  • Cover with soil and press it down. At the end, water abundantly.

Propagating parrot tulips

Here again, the easiest way to propagate your parrot tulip is to divide the bulb clump.

  • Unearth the offshoot bulblets when the leaves of the plant have dried off completely (they should have turned yellow).
  • Dig them out by digging a hole that’s wide enough for you not to wound them, and then tease them apart from the mother bulb.
  • Store the bulblets in a crate in a spot that’s well-ventilated until fall comes in.

Caring for parrot tulip

Parrot tulip careWhen spring arrives, to increase the spectacular blooming even more, remember to give the area special bulb plant fertilizer (with low levels of nitrogen), and to water it regularly. At the end of the season, when the blooming is over, pull the parrot tulip plant out. Indeed, this is a plant issued from breeding and selection, and it should be planted from fresh tulip bulbs again every year.

Diseases and pests

The most dangerous pest that attacks parrot tulips is none other than the squirrel. It will dig the bulbs out from underground for food, and even nibbles on its flowers! Parrot tulip will not appreciate being planted in soggy soil. It can lead to bulb rot. Another disease that might infect it is Botrytis tulipae which causes tulip fire blight.

Different Parrot tulip varieties

There are a great many different parrot tulips, each more glorious than the next! For instance:

  • the ‘Rainbow’ parrot tulip will produce incredible rainbow-colored flowers;
  • the ‘White Lizard’, for its part, is pure white, but the large frilly petals are irregular and surprisingly shaped;
  • the ‘Estella Rijnveld’ is red and white, whereas the ‘Princess Irene’ is violet orange;
  • the one-of-a-kind ‘Negrita parrot’ tulip produces huge 8-inch flowers (20 cm) that are violet with dark green shimmers.

>> Similar to parrot tulips are the taller and even more furnished peony tulips.

Good to know about the parrot tulip

The love of parrot tulips reaches way back in time, all the way to the 17th century (1600s). What does this tell us about tulips, why are we so mesmerized by its blooming?

Parrot tulips trigger deep desires

17th century painting of parrot tulips in a vaseIn the 17th century, many paintings featured a single type of subjects: parrot tulips. In 1665, this kind of flower drove people crazy. In a way, each flower is a stunning work of art, and on top of that each variety was extremely rare. Even after their blooming has peaked, these tulips are still fascinating.

The vast and eye-popping range of colors gave this family its name: parrot tulip. However, bicolor specimens are the ones that garner most attention. They do have one similarity: all the flowers have a dash of green on their petals.

Spontaneous unpredictability of parrot tulips

Parrot tulips are in fact an incredible gift of nature. Those crazy shapes and colors weren’t the result of people trying to create them: they were created by spontaneous mutations in the genes of a completely ordinary tulip. These varieties tend to display huge corollas that reach up to 5 inches across (12 cm). The stamens are a striking deep black color. Petals are twisted or fringed. Often, two colors collide and flame-like patterns appear, chaotic and hypnotic. True jewels for the garden.

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Picture related to Parrot tulip overlaid with the Instagram logo.

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Frilled sunshine by Sheila Sund under © CC BY 2.0
Yellow parrot tulip by Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois, own work
A still life of tulips and other flowers in a ceramic vase (1625), by Balthasar van der Ast by Swallowtail Garden Seeds under Public Domain