tulip [Pers., = turban], any plant of the large genus Tulipa, hardy, bulbous-rooted members of the family Liliaceae (lily family), indigenous to north temperate regions of the Old World from the Mediterranean to Japan and growing most abundantly on the steppes of Central Asia. Cultivated tulips, popular as garden and cut flowers and as potted plants, are chiefly varieties of T. gesneriana. They have deep, cup-shaped blossoms of various rich colors. Tulips having a peculiar color flecking or striping known as "breaking" were formerly very popular and were believed to be different varieties but now are thought to be the result of a virus disease carried by aphids. Many species tulips, typically with smaller, more open flowers, are also available horticulturally.
Tulip seeds are said to have been introduced into Europe in 1554 from Turkey, where they were possibly first cultivated. In the Netherlands in the 17th cent. the wild speculation on tulip bulbs became known as tulipomania: single bulbs sometimes brought several thousand dollars until the government was forced to interfere. Dumas told the story in his Black Tulip. The Netherlands is still the most important center of tulip culture. The tulip was so commonly used in the designs of the early Pennsylvania Dutch potters that their ware is often called tulip ware. Holland, Mich., a center of tulip growing in the United States, holds an annual tulip festival.
Tulips are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Liliales, family Liliaceae.
See bulletins of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture; M. Dash, Tulipomania (2000).