This is the No. 1 favorite of many gardeners. And no wonder. They are inexpensive, foolproof to grow, the blooms are early and enormous, and they come back year after year. Most experts talk about how tall' the blooms are, but if you've ever grown them, the real spectacle is after they've been open awhile, and the petals begin to flatten out until the whole bloom looks a lot like a huge red poppy. And inside? Brilliant yellow and black blotches, making the display a real knock-out.
The Emperors are great for cutting as well, and they'll open wide for you in a vase, just like they do out in the yard. It's not uncommon for the wide-open blooms to be over 5' across.
Emperor tulips are old hybrids, but have been one of US gardeners favorites from the beginning. The famous antique print shown below is not a Red Emperor, but an even earlier hybrid that looks very much like it, and shows the wide-open bloom habit with yellow center.
No tulip display is complete without Red Emperors. And if you've never planted them, you're in for a real treat. If you want a long period of bloom, a combination of early Emperors and late-blooming Darwin Hybrids will give you a full bloom look for over a month. And if you just love red, mix these with Oxford, the red Darwin Hybrid, and you can't miss.
And one more tip. Be sure to plant a few Red Emperors just for cutting. If you cut the stems, chances are they won't 'come back' next spring, but who can resist? Just two or three Red Emperor Tulips in a vase create a self-arranging bouquet your friends won't believe. These huge tulips actually keep 'growing in the vase', elongating and opening their brilliant red flowers with dramatic yellow/black centers. In a few days, you'll have a floral spectacle in your house, as these amazing flowers open wide and look more like huge red poppies or waterlilies than tulips. Something you'll never enjoy if you leave them all out in the yard!
About the famous Emperor Tulips: Early in the 20th Century, a talented Dutch hybridizer named Lefeber worked long and hard with a wild tulip called 'Tulipa fosteriana' from Central Asia. It is red, and from it, he hybridized the group that became known as the Emperor Tulips. From the very small wild form, the enormous-flowered, world-famous Red Emperor was introduced in 1931, and is what we now call a member of the 'Fosteriana Tulip' group. In fact, Red Emperor's official variety name is 'Madame Lefeber' in honor of the original hybridizer's wife.
White Emperor, Orange Emperor and a few others now make up this classic group. Every year millions of Emperor Tulips are planted worldwide, and are favorites for mass plantings in parks, botanical gardens, and other public places. They bloom early, are all the same height (shorter than later tulips), and the huge flowers open wide before they fade, almost like huge poppies.
Since the Emperors are closely related to a wild species, they are much more 'perennial' than most tulips, making them even more valuable.
In America's current Top Ten list for popularity in the US, compiled by the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Centre, Red Emperor, even though it's now 73 years old, stands tall at No. 7. The second most popular Emperor is White Emperor, and these two are often planted together; the red and white combination is a spring favorite all over the world.'