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

Special thanks to Professor Bud Markhart for providing his time and expertise to respond to your tulip garden questions. This page contains questions and answers from 2010.

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

Bud Markhart

From: California
Stevenson School

When dissecting a tulip to look at the various flower parts, would there be any seeds in the ovary?

A: You would not see any seed while dissecting a tulip flower. The seeds form in the ovary after the eggs in the ovary are fertilized after pollination. The seeds would get big enough to see after the flower petals dry up and the ovary swells.

From: OH

Most of my tulips are doing great and a couple are not. Is there an answer? I take care of them the same way and they all are in the same location of my yard. Thank You!

A: There is always some variation in the environment and in the bulbs that are planted. Smaller bulbs may do worse than larger bulbs. The soil around some bulbs may not be as fertile. Also some bulbs may be snacked on by animals and damaged.

From: MO
Valley Park Elementary

About half of our tulips did not emerge. We tried digging one up to look at it, but we couldn't find the bulb. What could be the reasons for the tulips not growing? We had an especially cold winter and record breaking rainfall. Did they rot?

A: They could have rotted, or if it was really cold and there was no mulch or snow cover they could have frozen to death and then rotted. Sometimes animals could also eat the bulbs.

From: VA
Hidenwood Elementary

What is the tulip's natural habitat or native area? We are learning about plants native to Virginia, and wonder about tulips.

A: There are plants that are related to tulips that grow in many environments. But tulips themselves have been changed a lot by plant breeders. I think it would be hard to find a plant that lives in VA that looks really similar to Red Emperors.

Q: Will tulips grow in an area that it is not native to? We live near the beach. Is that a good area for tulips to grow?

A: Tulips grow in lots of areas as long as you prepare the soil. Red Emperors grow across much of the U.S. and many parts of the world. I think it is certainly worth a try growing tulips were you live.

Q: What is the origin of the tulip?

A: Cultivated tulips are related to plants that originated in central Asia. Tulips have been cultivated for over a thousand years. There are now hundreds of different kinds of these very poplar flowers.

From: VA
Botetourt County Schools

We used two tulip bulbs for an experiment. Two students planted their bulbs sideways, so that the bases of the bulbs were touching and the tips of the bulbs pointed outwards, parallel to the surface of the ground. Our official bulbs have emerged and bloomed normally. For the experiment bulbs, both plants have large green leaves. One of the plants has two stems with buds about to open. The other has no stem at all - just leaves! Could the flower from one plant somehow have grown into the other plant? The stems branch off at the bottom inside the leaves so we know it's not just growing beside the main stem. What happened? We have pictures if you'd like to see them. Thanks for reading our question.

A: This is a really interesting response. I have never seen anything like this. If you could send pictures that would be great. One possibility is that one of the bulbs did not make a flower. Could have been too small or the flower was damaged.

Q: After planting the official garden, the teacher saved one bulb to dissect midwinter. I placed it in a Ziploc bag inside a draw of my desk, and unfortunately forgot about it. After the spring garden emerged, I found the unplanted bulb still in the desk with a small (1.5 inch) white sprout emerging. How did the sprout emerge with no access to water, soil, sunlight, or even fresh air?

A: How interesting to see. The shoot emerged because there was enough water stored in the bulb and enough air in the bag. Bulbs do not need soil or sunlight to start to grow. They need sun, nutrients, and water, to produce green leaves and produce strong flowers.

Q: Also, what can we do with the bulb now (other than dissect it?) If we plant it now, could it still grow and bloom? What if we wait until fall?

A: The bulb could always be planted, but sounds like it would not do well and chances of surviving not great, but plants are full of surprises. Another option is to add it to a compost pile and use the compost to fertilize your tulips next year.

From: UT

We are pleased to report that the 3-year-old Darwin tulips which didn't bloom under the new solarium's shade last year, (which the "Ask the Tulip" expert suggested we move), have come back this year big and strong in their new, much sunnier location and look sure to bloom! Now we'd like to find out which varieties of tulips have the largest blossoms. We want to plant some of those next year. Is there a variety with truly giant blossoms we could try? Any color would be fine.

A: Sorry, but I do not know which varieties of tulips have really big flowers. I suggest you go to the garden store or look in a catalog that specializes in tulips and pick ones that you really like.

From: PA
Round Hills

"Why do some tulips grow big (tall) and some grow small (short)?" (Our kindergarten students talked with older friends in first and second grade about their Journey North gardens. They learned that two years ago the tulips were very tall (1 1/2 feet) yet the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 tulips were much shorter. Our tallest blooming tulip this year is 8 inches. The gardens were in almost the same area. We did notice that some experimental tulips we planted in near the building in new soil were tall this year.)

A: There is not just one reason that tulips will flower at different heights. Often it is the temperature in the spring. If it gets cold after the plant starts to grow then the plants will be smaller when they flower.

Ismayilli, Azerbaijan
Ismayilli School #1 in the name of I. Hasanov

If the tulip bulb remains under the ground does the bulb move deeper and deeper?

A: Interestingly many plants that underground structures like bulbs have special roots called contractile roots that will pull the bulb like structure into the soil to the proper depth. As far as I know tulips do not have contractile roots. They do reproduce by a structure called a dropper that grows from the original bulb to the proper depth and then grows into a new bulb. Your original tulip bulb may appear to grow deeper if soil or mulch are piled on top.

Q: Does the Red Emperor tulip have any medical characteristics?

A: There are no know medicinal uses of tulips. However, you could consider the sense of peace and serenity you get from looking at a tulips a health benefit.

Q: Can we plant tulips indoors in flower pots?

A: You can grow tulips indoors in pots, but you need to be sure they have a cold treatment or they will not flower.

From: VT
Hinesburg Community School

Why do the tulip veins spread out when the leaves grow bigger?

A: The main veins of a tulip leaf are parallel to each other. They spread apart as the leaf gets bigger because the cells in between the veins are expanding pushing veins away from each other.

Q: We were looking at the leaves with a magnifying glass and noticed tiny little hairs. What are they and what are they used for?

A: The little hairs on leaves are called trichomes. In some plants they can be a defense against insects. In tulips it is not clear what function they serve.

Q: How do they help the plant?

A: In tulips we do not know. Tulips have been changed a lot by plant breeding. We would have to go back to the wild tulips and try and figure out how the hairs help the plant. This would be a very interesting question to study.

From: CA
Camino Union Elementary School

Our tulips were planted in early December and emerged in late January-three weeks earlier than our earliest previous emergence. About 40% bloomed in mid-March. We noticed some tulips just emerging (maybe 20% of total # planted). Another 40% bloomed late March/early April. A few stragglers are just emerging now, in mid-April. What is going on?

A: This is very interesting, but I can’t tell without learning more about your particular situation. Was the weather in your area unusually warm? The stragglers may have been extra small or planted extra deep. Hard to say. It is really cold in Minnesota in January. Maybe next year I could come visit warm and sunny California!

Tulip Expert, Bud Markhart
Professor, Horticultural Science