Blue Tulips: Do They Exist Naturally?

Are you thinking of planting some blue tulips this season, but want to know if they exist naturally or if they are dyed? The answer to this question is fairly simple, but can depend on your view of color. In this article, certified master gardener Liz Jaros examines if Blue Tulips exist in nature, or dyed.

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The color blue can be calming and peaceful or frosty and depressive. Its effect on the viewer depends largely on its application, its intensity, and on whether the particular shade of blue tends toward warm or cold.

On the turquoise side of the spectrum, blue is often used in beach cottage decor to mimic the water and create a relaxing vibe. Conversely, darker hues are often employed where a moody, loungy atmosphere is desired.

In the garden, blue is one of the most sought after flower colors, but also one of the most elusive. Of the roughly 300,000 plant species in the world, less than 10 percent of them produce blue flowers naturally. And most of the cultivars that claim to be blue are actually shades of purple or red.

So do blue tulips actually exist? Let’s dig in a little deeper and look at the nuances of tulip flower color, and what you can expect when looking for a “true blue” tulip.

The Short Answer

The short answer really depends in part on how far you’re willing to stretch the definition of “blue” and how your own personal eye perceives color. But the reality is, despite there being many tulip cultivars with the word ‘blue’ in their names, most botanists would tell you that the answer is definitively no, there are no “true blue” colored tulips. Most tulips you would consider a “true blue” color are artificially colored with dye.

The Long Answer

Blue herron tulipia variety bloomig in the garden. The petals are frilly, and the blooms are a light lavender blueish color.
Some tulips may have a blueish tint to them, but they lack the pigment needed for blue petals.

In the flower world, blue is known as a co-pigmentation, which means it’s only produced naturally if several factors come together in the right way. The primary pigment in blue is called anthocyanin, which produces red hues unless it’s acted on by a chemical change.

In species that produce true blue flowers – like hydrangeas, delphinium, morning glory, and bluebells – early buds are actually pink. They only turn blue because they’re sensitive to acid levels, molecules, and ions in the soil. The tulip does not fall into this category, so it will not have “true blue” colored flowers.

Explaining True Blue

Vivid blue tulipia blooming in a garden. There are many blooms and they are very bright in color, which appears almost digitally altered.
A “true blue” tulip like this image is often created through dye, or digital manipulation.

With all the chemistry talk behind us, we should also consider how individuals and their unique eye structures perceive color in radically different ways. Because sometimes this is the difference in one person seeing blue tulips and another person seeing purple.

At its most basic, blue is a primary color that’s located on the spectrum between green and purple. As shades move toward purple, there’s a distinct point where many of us will stop seeing blue, but not all of us.

A complicated process that involves wavelengths and cone receptors, seeing color can be different for each of us. The Royal Horticultural Society Color Chart recognizes 920 pigments and has become the universal go-to for identifying and categorizing flower colors.

But due to differences in our perception, we may not all agree on a botanist’s decision to choose one color over the other in its official flower description.

Why Are Some Tulips Classified as Blue?

Lavender colored flower blooming in full sun. There is a blueish tint to the petals.
Some growers get creative with new flower names, often incorporating “blue” due to the loose application of the word.

The answer to this question is, for the most part, wishful thinking. Knowing that blue is elusive and much coveted in the garden, tulip growers will often use the color generously to describe new hybrids and tulip cultivars that are actually shades of purple

It’s also the result of some of us having a more broad perception of what the color blue is and some of us being so accustomed to the color’s loose application in ornamental horticulture, that we just accept the misnomer as part of the industry.

Which Varieties Are Considered Blue?

If you’re willing to expand your notion of the color blue and select tulips that are not what we would call ‘true blue,’ there are plenty of cultivars to choose from. Here, we’ve assembled a list of some that could be considered close enough.

Tulipa ‘Blue Wow’

Tulipia Blue Wow Growing in Garden with Blue Blooms. There are many blooms blossoming in the flower garden.
While it may carry the name, this flower is starts off with a pinkish hue, and deepens to a rich grape color.
  • Geographic Origin: Central Asia
  • Plant Size: 18-24 inches
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Mid/Late Spring
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

Shaped like an artichoke with many dense layers contained in a sturdy green and white cradle of sepals, ‘Blue Wow’ is actually a rich grape color that deepens in intensity as bloom time progresses.

Stems are long at up to 24 inches, and blossoms are large and round. Color will be boldest when planted in full sun, but the variety can also handle locations where there is dappled shade.

Tulipa ‘Blue Beauty’

A close up of a tulipia blue beauty growing in the garden with water droplets. You can see the water beading up on each flower petal as the flower sits in the sun.
This bloom will have glints of blue in the sunlight as it matures.
  • Geographic Origin: Central Asia
  • Plant Size: 16-18 inches
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Mid Spring
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

Petals on this Triumph category tulip are a deep rose color with a satin sheen that glints blue in the sunlight. Blooms are single layer and cup-shaped.

Stems are sturdy and moderate in height at 16 inches, making ‘Blue Beauty’ a good choice for the middle of a mixed spring border.

Tulipa ‘Blue Aimable’

Lavender colored tulipia blooming in the garden with many flowers. The blooms are purple-ish with blue hues at the bottom.
These purplish colored petals can take on different hues as they bloom.
  • Geographic Origin: Central Asia
  • Plant Size: 22-24 inches
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Mid/Late Spring
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

In certain light conditions, ‘Blue Aimable’ can appear to have cornflower colored blooms, but petals are actually violet with a light feathering of lavender. A Single Late category tulip, this cultivar blooms for a long time on long, sturdy stems and makes a nice cut flower.

This variety is easy to grow and has a simple profile that pairs well with many other tulip varieties. Use it in a border of mixed pastels and it will stand tall above the rest, waving flexibly in the breeze. Force it to flower early indoors for some blue(ish) joy in late winter.

Tulipa ‘Blue Diamond’

Purple flowering plant blooming in garden space. The flower has drops of water on each petal from the morning dew.
This variety is primarily lilac in color, but can sometimes put off a hint of blue in certain light.
  • Geographic Origin: Central Asia
  • Plant Size: 16-20 inches
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Mid/Late Spring
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

White feathering at the margins of predominantly lilac-colored petals can give the illusion of blue on this mid to late blooming tulip. Blossoms are peony-form and quite large with yellow centers and an incurving shape.

Plant this variety with blue pansies and creeping phlox for a spring border that reads mostly blue despite the presence of purple.

Tulipa ‘Blue Parrot’

Blue parrot variety blooming in garden with lavender flowers. There are many different flowers in full bloom in the middle of a field.
This variety has streaks of cornflower blue that can show up in the petals.
  • Geographic Origin: Central Asia
  • Plant Size: 16-24 inches
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Late Spring
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

Mostly lilac but with streaks of cornflower, ‘Blue Parrot’ has a blue personality even if it’s not a perfect specimen. Growing up to 2 feet tall and blooming in late spring, this cultivar features ruffled petals that curve inward at night but flatten out during the day.

Early buds are green and attractive on this Parrot class tulip, giving the cultivar a particularly long period of appreciation in the garden. Somewhat vulnerable to rain and wind, it should only be planted in areas with some protection from the elements.

Tulipa ‘Cummins’

Cummins variety with cornflower colored streaks on the inner petals. The outer layer has fluffy and ridged white petals.
‘Cummins’ is in the fringed group, and has shades of blue streaks in the center of the bloom.
  • Geographic Origin: Central Asia
  • Plant Size: 18-20 inches
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Mid/Late Spring
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

A Fringed group tulip that’s officially described as royal lavender blue, ‘Cummins’ features blooms that are a blend of purples and can appear blue(ish) in direct sunlight. Petals have white serrated edges that flex backward slightly at the tips.

Foliage is bright green and curls up around flower heads to cradle blooms nicely. Plant in a large mass for a striking display or in a small group for a standout bouquet.

Tulipa ‘Blueberry Ripple’

Blueberry ripple variety blooming in garden. There are many flowers, and each of them has a dark burgundy section in the middle of the petal with a white ring around the rest.
The ripples on this bi-color variety will range from a deep burgundy to a deep violet that almost appears cobalt in color.
  • Geographic Origin: Central Asia
  • Plant Size: 16-20 inches
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun
  • Bloom Time: Late Spring
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

Blossoms are elegant and egg-shaped on this unique bi-color tulip. Petals feature rich cobalt flames at the bottom and snow white edging at the top. Stems are long and strong, maxing out at 20 inches.

‘Blueberry Ripple’ has a sweet, pleasant scent that makes it a lovely choice for walkway plantings and porch pots. As a Triumph tulip, it also forces easily indoors for some early spring joy.

Final Thoughts

Achieving almost unicorn status in the world of floriculture, the color blue is highly sought after but rarely captured. Despite centuries of cultivation and hybridization, a true blue tulip does not exist on the market today.

While floral industry professionals are able to offer a bouquet of blue tulips through artificial dyes and trickery, there is nothing like it in the natural landscape. For now, we’ll have to be satisfied with tulips that offer ‘hints’ of blue or are ‘close’ in color.

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