Tulips Meaning and Symbolism

Tulip Story & Origins

Tulips originated in Central Asia, and became very popular in Turkey. The tulip’s name comes from the Persian word for turban, because in full bloom tulips have a turban-like shape.

Tulips commonly mean perfect love. The meaning of perfect love is tied to Turkish and Persian legends about the love between Farhad and Shirin. There are a few variations of this tale. According to one story, Farhad was a prince. He was in love with a beautiful girl named Shirin. Unfortunately, Shirin is murdered, and this tears Farhad apart. In desperation, Farhad rides his horse off a cliff, and a red tulip grows where his blood touches the ground — the symbol for perfect love.

In another version, Farhad is a stone cutter and Shirin is a princess. He tries to win her over and she rejects him, so he goes to the hills to play music to honor her. When she learns this, she falls in love with him. However, her father isn’t pleased that she’s fallen in love with a commoner, and tasks him with digging a giant canal to prove his love.

After years, Farhad nearly finishes the canal, so Shirin’s father sends a courtesan to convince Farhad that Shirin is dead. He is so distraught that he takes his life. When Shinrin learns of this, she goes to find him and takes her own life to be with him. Red tulips grow where their blood hits the ground as symbols that their love will last forever.

Tulip Meanings

  • The most common meaning for tulips is perfect or deep love.
  • Because tulips are one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring, they can mean rebirth.
  • Victorians often associated tulips with charity.


Tulip Symbolism & Colors

In the stories above, red tulips grow as signs of everlasting love, but what is the tulip symbolism for non-red blooms?

  • Pink tulips symbolize happiness and confidence.
  • Purple tulips symbolize royalty.
  • Yellow tulips symbolize cheerful thoughts.
  • White tulips symbolize forgiveness.

Tulip Cultural Significance

Turkey isn’t the only place where tulips have historic significance. In the late 16th century, tulips were introduced to the Netherlands from Turkey. Tulips were a novelty, and fairly expensive. Eventually, they contracted the non-fatal mosaic virus, which made their petals more bright and interesting, so the price of tulips began to rise even more.

As the value of tulips increased, people began trading their land and savings to acquire more bulbs. However, eventually, many people were trying to sell the bulbs and not many were buying, causing prices to drop and the tulip market to crash during the 17th century. This crash left the Dutch very hesitant about investing for a long period of time.

Despite this, tulips have remained extremely popular in the Netherlands. Every year Amsterdam celebrates National Tulip Day in January. On this day Dutch tulip growers build a gigantic tulip garden on Dam Square, and people come and pick a free bouquet of flowers. This marks the beginning of tulip season.

Tulip Facts

Tulips are also the flower for eleven-year wedding anniversaries, as symbols of devotion and love.
There are over 3000 different varieties of tulips.
Tulips are in the same family as lilies and onions.
Tulip bulbs should be planted in the fall and bloom in early spring into summer.


Tulip Uses

During World War II there are stories of people eating tulip bulbs, especially during the Dutch famine. According to J.H. Warmerdam, a man who grew up in Holland during WWII, the bulbs gave people skin rashes and were not agreeable. However, since not many tulips had been planted that year, there was a large stock around the country.

Though it isn’t common to eat tulip bulbs anymore, and many believe they shouldn’t be ingested, tulip petals can be eaten and are often used to garnish salads and other dishes.

Whether you want to express your deep love, or just want to brighten someone’s day with these vibrant flowers, tulips are a great way to both show how you feel and add a pop of color to a room!








Image Sources

Top image: CC Image courtesy of David Doan on Flickr

Middle image: top left CC Image courtesy of François Philipp on Flickr; top right CC Image courtesy of RichardBH on Flickr

Bottom image: top CC Image courtesy of Dennis Wong on Flickr