Daffodils Are Delightful, But Tulips Are Better

Let me stipulate that everything is beautiful in its own way, you can’t say one flower is better than another, and so on.

Narcissus 'Pink Charm'
Narcissus ‘Pink Charm’

However. Really you can say that some flowers are better than others, and when it comes to spring bulbs, Tulips are better than Daffodils.

Narcissus 'Delibes'
N. ‘Delibes’

This isn’t just an opinion, it is backed up by research done at Princeton University’s Center for Horticulture and Advanced Thought (CHAT).

Narcissus 'Delibes' and 'Ice Follies'
N. ‘Delibes’ and ‘Ice Follies’

Right now the Daffodils are at their peak in my garden, and I do appreciate them, especially the way they glow in the spring sunshine.

Narcissus 'King Alfred' and 'Ice Follies'
N. ‘King Alfred’ and ‘Ice Follies’

Even so, the superiority of Tulips over Daffodils can be summarized in one word: color.

Tulip 'Early Harvest'
Tulip ‘Early Harvest’

Tulips have a wider range of colors, and much stronger colors.

T. praestans 'Unicum' (red) with T. turkestanica
T. praestans ‘Unicum’ (red) with T. turkestanica


There are no daffodils of brilliant red or dark purple or vibrant orange. OK, there are daffodils that have cups of a sort of apricot or orangey pink, but that is hardly the same.

Tulipa 'Flair'
T. ‘Flair’. This isn’t blooming right now, but it’s an example of how colors combine in Tulips but not Daffodils.

Also, colors mix in Tulips much more dramatically than they do with Daffodils. With Daffodils, you may get a perianth (petals) of one color and a cup of another. Sometimes the cup fades from a lighter to a deeper shade. Very nice.

More T. turkestanica
More T. turkestanica

But with Tulips, you can get stripes and swirls and one dazzling color flushed with another.

T. dasystemon
T. dasystemon

Right now my ‘Early Harvest’ Tulips are done except for the ones in a single pot. But as ‘Early Harvest’ exits, T. praestans ‘Fusilier’ and ‘Unicum’ (with variegated leaves) keep my need for brilliant color satisfied.

There’s also a few white and yellow Tulip species in my garden: lots of T. turkestanica, a few T. biflora, and the T. dasystemon are just starting to bloom. Many more will make their appearance in the next few weeks.

2015-04-19 11.45.27 tulips

It must be admitted that Daffodils do have one huge advantage over tulips: critters don’t eat daffodils – all parts of the plant are toxic.

Also, as far as I can tell the poets have been more effusive about Daffodils than about Tulips. Tulips don’t have anything to match Wordsworth’s “host of golden daffodils, fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” There is a poem by Sylvia Plath which gives you the feeling she actually hates tulips. If someone knows of a poem which corrects this imbalance, please let me know.

Do you agree with me that Narcissi have their charms, but they are no match for Tulips?


68 Comments on “Daffodils Are Delightful, But Tulips Are Better”

  1. I, of course, would have to agree with you. Not only are the colours more intense and varied; tulips are available in so many different forms, just the type names give you an idea – parrot, lily flowered, water lily or peony flowered. I love them all!

  2. Like many beautiful things, tulips are heart breakers, for the very reason you mention: critters love them. Daffs, on the other hand, are like good friends: reliable, steady, (almost) always there when you can’t stand another minute of gray and brown in early spring.

  3. Haha, I don’t agree and your own pics prove you wrong, dear Jason! The daffs are stunning and yes, tulips may be a little more flamboyant but I love them both the same. The daffs do tend to be more faithful, in my garden anyway.

  4. I agree! But the squirrels eat all my tulips and it seems I have to replant them every fall in certain beds. The front yard is a loss since they are eaten all the time. My dog makes it a bit more difficult in my backyard garden( long sigh), but I do have to admit that pop of color just lifts ones spirits!

  5. I admit to liking them all. I adore jonquils and the smaller narcissi, but I’m also a supreme tulip whore. I can’t get enough of them, but same thing there – I far prefer the species tulips. The die back more gracefully for one thing – without all that floppy foliage. But hey – I welcome them all!

      • This weekend at Hortlandia, I found the tiniest narcissus I have ever seen. The grower had collected the bulbs from the mountains of Spain and propagated it. The flower was about 1/2″ in diameter, and the stalk about 5″ – 6″ tall. Absolutely precious! I fell for it like a ton of rocks!

  6. I’m a bit of a bulb slut myself, loving them all. Both Tulips and Daffodils have their charms but as you mentioned, daffodils aren’t attractive to the squirrel gardeners or other critters like the slugs that made Swiss cheese of some of my tulip foliage this year. Daffodils also increase and come back reliably year after year whereas tulips, except the Darwins and especially the species, tend to make a splash for a few years and then go gently into that dark soil. Daffodils do have that lovely spring scent, especially when brought indoors. I’m surprised that P.U. CHAT didn’t include fragrance in their otherwise flawless research.

  7. You’re right, I can’t think of a single tulip poem that is cheerful. I wonder if you like the frilly parrot tulips too? I do love seeing crowds of daffodils in a woodland setting, but tulips do seem to offer more choice when it comes to a garden setting so I have to agree!

  8. I love tulips but voles and deer love them even more. And if they are not species tulips they generally have to be replanted every year.

    That said, I recently went to the twin sisters’ garden in Chapel Hill and their tulips were in full bloom. It was necessary to take at least 100 pictures.

  9. I think it’s true that if you want the hotter colors in a cool spring garden then you really have to go with tulips. I like blue and yellow combinations too though, so there have to be some scilla / grape hyacinths thrown in there somewhere. I also like the “poets daffodil” (Narcissus poeticus) for the historical baggage it carries.

  10. It’s hard to speculate on this tulipomania. If the deer would leave tulips alone I would definitely plant them occasionally, but I love seeing the daffodils return each year with no further effort on my part. Your daffodils and tulips look wonderful Jason.

  11. I don’t think I could ever choose between the bulbs – any of them for that matter – they are all so wonderful!
    Although, when I did live in Sydney (which is a warm climate) I did force tulips in the fridge for a garden display….I never did this with daffodils, so maybe that’s telling…..!

  12. Obviously I just wrote a comment that got lost when the internet connection failed me and the page reloaded… Anyway you made your good point with tulips but since they don’t survive for more than two seasons in my garden I’ll stick to daffodils. Much more reliable they increase year by year and are just carefree. I really like those t. turkesanika underplanted to the red ones, very good (and brave) match!

  13. I love tulips, but having lived in the “Daffodil Capital of America,” Gloucester VA, I’m siding with the daffodils. They are true perennials that grow there in masses over fields, roadsides, ditches and yards in a riot of colors… yellow, white, pink, red, orange.

  14. I love both, and wouldn´t want to choose between them. I love daffodils, especially the white ones. I have some with a wonderful fragrance, like Thalia. They come back every year, unlike the tulips. But tulips do come in all kinds of great colours, and patterns, and of course they belong in every garden.

    Here is a poem for you.

    Tulips shyly smiling, greet the spring
    Tightly closed when at
    First we meet
    Tulips slowly opening, begin to sing
    Gaining volume
    Ever sweet

    No longer shy, as days grow longer,
    Raising their heads
    They begin to flirt
    Tulips dressed in many a color
    Breezes swirling
    Each floral skirt

    Tulips, brazen painted hussies,
    Part their bright lips trying to seduce
    The busy buzzing bees
    Far too bold for dainty tussies
    Vibrant Tulip flowers produce
    Visions certain to please

    Mary Havran

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