Tulip Meaning: Discover What Tulip Colors Symbolize

Updated: Jan. 26, 2024

Ready to celebrate spring with this classic flower? Learn about the long history of tulips, what they've represented, and what the different colors of tulips mean.

tulip meaningCourtesy Randy Samuels
Tulip flowers have special meaning for some people.

With their unique shape and bright colors, tulips are some of the most recognizable flowers in any garden or bouquet. They’ve appeared in famous fairytales, like in Hans Christian Andersen’s Thumbelina. Tulips have also been the obsession of the Netherlands in the mid-1600s, when tulip bulbs went for ridiculously high prices. But have you ever wondered if, like roses and other blooms, different colors of tulips mean different things? Learn more about tulip meaning and symbolism.

What Tulips Symbolize

tulip meaningCourtesy Jhoanna Salazar
Tulips are a popular gift for special occasions.

If someone hands you a bouquet of tulips, it could be to celebrate your birthday — tulips are one of the birth flowers for the month of April — or maybe the bundle of spring blooms is to recognize a wedding anniversary. (Tulips sit alongside morning glories as the flower for 11th wedding anniversaries.) But if you were a woman living in France, England or the U.S. in the mid-1800s, there could be a secret message to decode amongst the petals.

During the Victorian era, several popular books were published about the language of flowers and what different colors and combinations meant. Tulips in general were said to represent fame and ideal love. Today, most people simply associate tulips with spring and the Netherlands but that’s not the tulip’s true origin.

Discover fascinating tulip facts you don’t know.

Tulips in History

Tulips and WindmillJacobH/Getty Images
A colorful tulip field in front of Dutch windmills

Although neat, long rows of tulips with a windmill in the background may be what first comes to mind when you think of the flower, tulips aren’t native to Europe at all but originated in Central Asia where it grew in the valleys of a mountain range system called Tien Shan north of the Himalayas.

These wild tulips didn’t quite look like today’s tulips but they were hardy and could handle treacherously cold winters. Turkish invaders of the 9th century were heartened by the bright red color thriving in the harsh environment and tulips would go on to become an important symbol of the Ottoman Empire.

Iznik Tile inside the Takkeci Ibrahim Aga Mosque in Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul, TurkeyAyhan Altun/Getty Images
Colorful Iznik tiles from the 16th century during the Ottoman Empire

Tulips came to symbolize perfection and eternity, and were considered to be the flower of God. (The Turkish word for “tulip” is “lale,” which uses the same letters in Arabic as Allah.) After religious practices changed to allow realistic illustrations of living things in the 15th century, tulips began featuring in Ottoman illustrations of the Garden of Eden. Tulip embroidery was worn beneath armor for good luck, and tulips appeared in poetry, ceramics and more.

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In the late 16th century, tulips were introduced to the Netherlands. More colors than ever began to be cultivated.

These pictures of tulips will make you dream of spring.

Red Tulip Meaning

276862030 1 Constance Perry Bnb Bypc 2021, tulip factsCourtesy Constance Perry
Like red roses, red tulips are a sign of love.

Forget red roses—spring for red tulips instead if you want you to tell someone you love them. In the traditional language of flowers, red tulips mean “believe me” and are considered a declaration of love. There are many wonderful types of red tulips. A popular choice is ‘World’s Favorite,’ which has perfectly shaped blossoms of tomato red and subtly yellow-edged petals.

Learn how and when to plant tulip bulbs for spring flowers.

Yellow Tulip Meaning

yellow tulipsCourtesy Sandra Jones
We can’t help smiling when we see yellow tulips.

Want to compliment someone on their amazing smile? Give them a bouquet of yellow tulips, which means: “There is sunshine in your smile.” Try the appropriately named ‘Big Smile‘ for a tulip with a classic look that blooms in late spring. It’s hard not to grin when you see these lemon-yellow flowers.

Learn how to grow a tulip poplar tree.

Cream Tulip Meaning

Four tulips on a black backgrounddan_kaplan/Getty Images
Cream colored tulips signify deep devotion.

If you’re less interested in proclaiming your love for someone but instead want to make a promise, cream-colored tulips communicate: “I’ll love you forever.” Try the ‘Cream Jewel,’ which opens in a soft yellow but eventually changes over to a creamy white.

Check out our top 10 tulip favorites to grow.

White Tulip Meaning

White Tulip Bouquet DetailTurnervisual/Getty Images
Share a bouquet of white tulips for a special moment in a young person’s life.

The color white is often used to represent purity and innocence, which make white tulips the perfect addition to a bouquet that honors a rite of passage, like a bar mitzvah or baptism. The tulip ‘White Triumphator’ brings sophisticated elegance to your garden with pointed petals that subtly flare and arch.

Psst—you’ll fall in love with White Honeymoon tulips.

Pink Tulip Meaning

Bnbbyc19 Karla Salp 1Courtesy Karla Salp
Send pink tulips to your best friend.

When you want to let someone know you’re thinking of them just because, consider pink tulips, which can symbolize friendliness, care and good wishes. Bring some good cheer to your own garden with ‘New Design,’ which blooms in mid-spring with bold pink petals.

Whether you want to send a message via a bouquet of tulips or simply want to incorporate some of these tulip meanings into your own backyard by planting bulbs, there’s a color and variety that’s the perfect match.

Next, find out if monarch butterfly sightings have meaning.