Tulips are the floral harbingers of spring, providing brilliant bursts of color in otherwise drab surroundings. But a few varieties offer another kind of bouquet, too: They're fragrant.
"Tulips normally are planted in home gardens for color and form, but about 15 to 20 percent of all varieties have the added bonus of being fragrant as well," said Jo-Anne van den Berg-Ohms, the fourth-generation owner of John Scheepers Beauty from Bulbs in Bantam, Connecticut.
Their scent varies, she said.
"It's not strong or overpowering. Rather, it's a sweet, lingering fragrance that floats on the spring air," she said.
Most fragrant tulip varieties are orange or apricot in color, van den Berg-Ohms said, and they're sprinkled through all of the species divisions, from heirlooms to the more familiar, modern-day hybrids.
"If you're interested in their fragrance, plant them in places that are traveled that time of year, especially near walkways," she said. "Take advantage of the fragrant varieties rather than planting them out in more distant areas."
Cutting gardens would be perfect, she said, although there is one downside: "They really would have to be considered annuals then." That's because cutting off a tulip's foliage during or shortly after it blooms also cuts off its energy supply. That all but eliminates any chance it will flower for another season.
"You may experience their fragrance lots more indoors as potted bulbs and cut flowers than you do out of doors, where the scent can disperse," said Sally Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the flower bulb company Colorblends.com. "Probably some of this has to do with temperature.
"A single pot of 'T. Monte Carlo' will scent an entire room indoors," Ferguson said. "Same is true for a few cut stems of 'Prinses Irene'."
Scott Kunst, owner and head gardener at Old House Gardens in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said few of his customers know much about the floral fragrance of tulips, although he includes information about them in his catalogs every year.
"Fragrance is not a trait anyone is breeding for in tulips today, and it's elusive," said Kunst, who specializes in heirloom bulbs.
Among his favorites: Prince of Austria, Apricot Beauty, Generaal de Wet, Orange Favorite, Prinses Irene, Willem van Oranje, Peach Blossom, Florentine and Elegans Alba.
Some other fragrant varieties are the cherry-red miniature species Little Beauty, the double early tomato red Abba, the ivory yellow Montreaux, the unusually colored Salmon Pearl, the peony-like Black Hero and the rose-colored single late tulip variety dubbed Temple of Beauty.
Some fragrant tulips are not only pleasing to the eye and nose but to the palate as well, said Becky Heath, co-owner of Brent and Becky's Bulbs in Gloucester, Virginia.
"If you don't use chemicals, like us, you can use the petals of the tulips as a tasty alternative for crackers for cocktail parties," Heath said. "Orange Queen topped with a salad spread, for example."