The Q&A Archives: Tulips Change Color

Question: I planted red tulips and yellow tulips two years ago. This year I have red, yellow, yellow with red streaks and one that is yellow on one side and red on the other. Why is this happening? Is it normal? I also have pink, purple and white tulips that seem to be retaining their original colors. I'm not sure what variety of tulips they are. The red and yellow ones are really tall (about 2 feet) the pink and purple are only about 10 inches. Thanks.

Answer: Sounds like your tulips have Rembrandt Virus, also known as Tulip Breaking Virus (TBV). This virus has an interesting history as it was purposefully introduced to tulips in the past to produce new color varieties and variations. Now, this practice is frowned upon and is only performed by "rogue" tulip growers. It is possible that only one tulip in an entire bed can be affected, or, the entire bed can be affected. A tulip with this virus is called "broken". Once a tulip is broken, it is always broken. It will never regain its original color. Any offsets of that tulip will also be broken. This virus is spread by aphids, so it affects later blooming tulip varieties most. To prevent further spread of the virus, control the aphids. If the broken tulips are unattractive, you will need to dig them up and throw them out. If they are still appealing to you , simply leave them be - you can't treat the virus.

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