Ilona has gardened actively for most of her life and has been a writer and webmaster online since 1998. Homeschooled all 10 of her children.
The Kaufmanniana and Greigii types of tulips grow so well in the garden that they have numerous named varieties, most of which come back year after year. They produce showy flowers, and in the case of T. greigii, some of the largest blooms, which are mostly chalice shaped.
The "Waterlily" tulips also come in a number of named varieties, but are more delicate looking, though just as strong as their beefier brethren. Kaufmanniana types bloom quite early and their smaller profile is charming.
Small Tulips With Big Impact
They may be short in stature, but the Kaufmanianna and Greigii types of tulips have a large flower and beautiful foliage.
- Are low growing
- Quite hardy (zones 3-7)
- Good for rock gardens and flower beds
- Give a good show in the garden
Progenitors of Modern Breeds
"Many types of cultivated tulips are descended from either the Greig or Kaufman tulip species. People say almost seventy five percent of cultivated flowers come from these two."
— Yevgeny Belousov, biologist
Tulipa Class Divisions 12 and 14
Because these types of tulips have become so popular they have been hybridized and have many named varieties. What all these tulips and the species have in common is their tendency to be perennial, their low stature, and those with Greigii traits, especially, often have variegated foliage. I have planted many of these types into my gardens and love them all.
This class comes from the Tulipa kaufmanniana species, native to Turkestan. The earliest flowering tulip in my garden, it shows up in early April.
The Kaufmanniana tulip is also known as the "Waterlily" tulip which tips off the gardener to the flat wide blooms that open on sunny days. They bloom quite early for me, and are buzzing with happy visiting bees, delighted to break their winter fast from fresh nectar.
"Heart's Delight" is my particular favorite of the Waterlily type and is highly recommended.
Developed from the Tulipa greigii species, also native to Turkestan, the Greigii flowers just after the Kaufmanniana group.
With their striking foliage, the plants flower in bright colors. This gives them outstanding visual power in the landscape.
T. greigii are persistent in the garden and often golden yellow and red with striped foliage that is very handsome (a great boon when the flowers are finished and the foliage must remain to recharge the bulb stores). I like "Cape Cod," "Calypso," "Fur Elise," and "Oratorio," among others.
Which Cultivars Have Striped Foliage?
Most Greigii, including:
- Red Riding Hood
- Oriental Beauty
- Heart’s Delight
Kaufmanniana or Greigii for Your Garden?
Kaufmanniana Tulips (Division 12):
Kaufmanniana Tulips (Division 12):
"The Kaufmanniana tulips . . . were described in 1877 by Regel, named after K. von Kaufmann, the governor of Tashkent. They grow wild in Tien Shan. This tulip is 6in (15cm) tall with a long flower which is white with a yellow tint on the inside and rose-tinged outside. Because the flowers open wide, the name "water lily" became attached to this tulip recalling a resemblance to water lilies. Kaufmanniana bloom in March, and are low to the ground with short stems, only 20cm tall."
— Tulip World
Greigii Tulips (Division 14):
"The Tulip Greigii was discovered in Turkestan in 1877 and described by Regel, named after S.A. Greig, a botanist from St. Petersburg. Hybrids have been produced from crosses with other species. Greigii Tulips have large blooms on short stems with purple marked or mottled foliage. Hybrid Greigii tulips reach heights from 8-16in (20-40cm). They bloom at the end of April and beginning of May."
— Tulip World
Top Named Cultivars to Try
Hearts Delight; white with rose
Pinocchio; red with white
Giuseppe Verdi; yellow with red
Cape Cod; yellow and red
Stresa; yellow with red
Dreamboat; pink and yellow
Johann Strauss; white with red
Oratorio; bright pink
Sweet Lady; peach pink
Turkish Delight; ivory and dark red-brown
Red Riding Hood; red
Where and How to Plant Division 12
One of the best things about the Kaufmanniana group is that they flower so early. Use the ones with yellow near a forsythia, combine the white varieties with crocus for pretty early spring pictures.
The famous English gardener E. A. Bowles directed the bulbs to be planted 6 inches deep. The general rule for all bulbs is about 3X the height of the bulb, so this is just a bit shallower than the usual 8 inches.
While they will usually "find their depth" over time, it could help with naturalizing to start out with the correct depth so they will do best.
Their native habitat is high ground, which means good drainage is exceedingly important. This is one reason they do well in containers.
Use at least a cluster of ten bulbs at a time, twenty is better. When plants are as delicate and petite in form as these, the greater numbers help ensure a good show.
Good Practice for Division 14
This type is substantially larger in flower and impression, closer to the taller tulips in size of bloom and leaves. They are simply shorter. This makes Greigii tulips good for massed bedding.
The plantsman and arbiter of garden style, William Robinson praised the T. greigii in tandem with Erythroniums, and Fritillaria meleagris, all of which would sport similar maroon color in their parts and can bloom together.
Fertilizing in Spring and Fall
Feeding tulips is a good idea. Fertilize as growth begins; foliar feeding will encourage bloom. Continue until the foliage withers.
If your plants do very well and get crowded, lift and replant th smaller bulbs about every three years or so. If they are blooming fine, wait and don't disturb them, however.
In the Flower Bed
Although these varieties look wonderful massed in a bed on their own, it can be an outstanding flowering show to match them up with low growing perennials. Those that bloom at the same time, like Pansies, Dutchman's Breeches, and Lenten Hellebores make good partners.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Ilona E (author) from Ohio on March 04, 2017:
These two classes of tulips should be better known, especially since they are more perennial in the garden!
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 03, 2017:
The flowers and the striped foliage are very attractive. Thanks for increasing my knowledge about tulips!
Ilona E (author) from Ohio on March 03, 2017:
It almost looks, tropical, right?! Those of us in the North of the mainland have to get color when we can, and these tulips deliver it.
Viet Doan from Big Island, Hawaii on March 03, 2017:
Delightful learning! Thank you for writing about these 2 types of tulip. Who knew! I love the variety with striped leaves, just as beautiful as the flower itself. Happy spring!