tulipsRed Tulips January 2010

These bulb-flower faves often challenge designers and intrigue customers with their “do what they want” personality.

family ties.
Tulips, botanically known as Tulipa (TOO-li-pa), are members of the Liliaceae (lily) family. Close flower relatives include lilies, lilies-of-the-valley, Gloriosas, hyacinths, grape hyacinths and stars-of-Bethlehem.

group activity.
Tulips are classified into 15 divisions; among the most commonly cultivated as cut flowers are single, double (peony flowered), parrot (ruffled and multicolored), lily flowered (pointed petals) and fringed (serrated petal edges).

not just spring flowers.
Although cut tulips are most abundant from about December through May, they can be found year-round today, due, in part, to “ice tulip” technology (bulbs are held in sustained cold to delay forcing and extend their availability).

buy the way.
For maximum vase life, purchase most cut tulips when they are in tight bud form and flower color is just visible; however, some varieties, including ‘Monte Carlo’, ‘Kees Nelis’ and ‘Cassini’, should be harvested and purchased at a more mature stage. Look for firm, straight stems and firm, green foliage, with no discolorations.

prompt action.
Unpack tulips immediately upon their arrival in your shop, and check the flower quality. Remove any bindings from the stems, but leave the flowers in their sleeves. Then remove lower leaves, and rinse stems to wash away dirt and debris.

ready to drink.
Recut the stems with a sharp blade, removing at least 1 inch of stem, to eliminate desiccated (dried-out) ends as well as any dirt, debris and microbes that might have accumulated there. Be sure to cut off the entire white portion of the stem ends.

the scoop on flower food.
Immediately after cutting the stems, place them into containers with 4 to 6 inches of bulb-flower-food solution prepared with cold, nonfluoridated water. Cold water will reduce the chance that flowers will “blow open.”

     Bulb-flower foods contain—in addition to the ingredients in standard flower foods—“replacement” hormones to help correct imbalances that occur when the flowers are cut from their bulbs. They also have a lower concentration of sugar, which can aggravate leaf yellowing.

     Some varieties of tulips do not benefit from the nutrients in flower food, but it should always be used to limit the growth of stem-plugging microbes (bacteria) in the water.

cool off.
Once tulips are processed, place them immediately into a floral cooler at 33 F to 35 F and 85 percent to 90 percent relative humidity, and allow them to hydrate for at least two hours before selling or arranging them.

curvaceous flowers.
Tulips are geotropic (affected by gravity) and phototropic (curve toward the light), so store them upright in their containers and in a dark area of the cooler where they’re shielded from the light (unless the light source is directly above the flowers). Some flower care experts recommend leaving tulips in their sleeves during storage to help prevent the stems from curving.

toxic relationship.
Avoid placing tulips into storage containers with any species of Narcissi (daffodils, jonquils, paper-whites, etc.) because, when cut, Narcissi exude a mucilage that adversely affects the vase life of tulips. These flowers can be mixed in arrangements only after both have been conditioned separately.

facts of life.
Depending on variety, care and stage of maturity at harvest, cut tulips should last from three to six days at the consumer level. Sell these flowers within two days.

no issue with gas.
Most varieties of tulips are not sensitive to ethylene gas although some, like ‘Apeldoorn’, are. Regardless, research shows that anti-ethylene products will not increase the vase life of tulips.

stretching exercises.
Tulips can be a challenge to arrange not only because of their geotropic and phototropic natures but also because their stems (scapes) often elongate an inch or more after they’re arranged. This phenomenon can be reduced by using a flower food that contains elongation inhibitors. Wiring the flowers will not help and is not recommended.


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