Canada 150 Tulip – Confusion About Cultivar Names

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Robert Pavlis

Canada will celebrate its 150th birthday in 2017. To mark this celebration, Canada is launching a special tulip called ‘Canada 150’. The white and red colors of the tulip mimic the colors in our flag.

Where did the Canada 150 tulip originate? There are several stories floating around about its origin but much of this is not true. Canadians have been told that the tulip is only sold through a Canadian hardware stored called Home Hardware and is available in limited quantity. So it should be no surprise that ‘imposter tulips’ have been introduced into the Canadian market place. People will do anything for a loonie (the common name for our $1 coin).

Tulip 'Canada 150' aka Tulip ‘Carnaval de Rio’
Tulip ‘Canada 150’ is the same plant as Tulip ‘Carnaval de Rio’

Follow me as I try to unravel the mysteries of the special Canada 150 tulip and learn more about the confusing world of naming plant cultivars.

History of Canada, Holland and the Tulip

This story starts during World War II. When the Germans invaded Holland, Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard fled to Canada for safety and stayed in the Ottawa area. Queen Juliana gave birth to Princess Margriet at the Ottawa Civic Hospital in 1943. The hospital ward was declared extraterritorial so that the birth could technically take take place in The Netherlands.

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The Canadian army also played a major role in liberating The Netherlands towards the end of the war.

After the war, in a show of gratitude, The Netherlands sent over 100,000 tulip bulbs which were planted in Ottawa. This shipment of bulbs has become an annual ritual and both countries have remained close friends through tulips. In 2017, 300,000 Canada 150 tulip bulbs will be showcased.

Tulips hold a special place in the hearts of Canadians and so it should come as no surprise that we wanted to celebrate our birthday with a special red and white tulip.

Birth of the Canada 150 Tulip

Where and how was this tulip developed?

A newspaper, the Ottawa Citizen reports (ref 1):

“The Canada 150 tulip is one of the latest and most splendid products of our growers’ restless ingenuity,” said His Excellency Cees Kole, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. “Dutch tulip growers have been collaborating with the NCC (National Capital Commission, Canada) for the past four years to develop and design the celebratory flower”

A lot of effort seems to have gone into the development of this tulip.

There was a lot of discussion about the origin of this tulip in Canadian gardening groups. It had limited distribution and imposters were on the market. We wanted to know more, so one member contacted the NCC for clarification, and this is what they had to say:

“We wish to inform you that the NCC did not breed the Canada 150 tulip. This tulip existed already and the NCC negotiated the exclusivity of this registered tulip in Canada, with the grower, Holland Bulb Market (Holland).

Below are specifications about the Canada 150 tulip:

Genus: Tulipa
Cultivar Group: Triumph Group
Cultivar: ‘Carnaval de Rio’
Trade name: Canada 150
We hope this information will be useful to you and if you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us again.

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Kind regards,

Client Services
National Capital Commission (NCC)”

It looks as if the so called “four years to develop and design” did not actually take place, except in someones imagination. This tulip was not specifically designed for Canada. Tulip ‘Carnaval de Rio’ was simply renamed as Tulip ‘Canada 150’. It can be purchased under both names.

Origin of Tulip ‘Carnaval de Rio’

The Canada 150 tulip is actually Tulip ‘Carnaval de Rio’. Where did this tulip come from?

The official organization for registering tulip cultivars is the Royal General Bulb Growers’ Association (KAVB) . It’s records show that Tulip ‘ ‘Carnaval de Rio’ was registered on 25-06-1999, by Firma Bern. N. Dobbe Zn, a bulb grower in The Netherlands.

The Imposters

The Canada 150 tulip is only available from Home Hardware but other retailers wanted to also make some cash on the birthday craze. It is no surprise that a tulip called ‘Canadian Celebration’ started to be sold by nurseries in Canada. When I contacted Van Noort Bulb Co. Ltd, the distributor of the imposter, they told me that Tulip ‘Canadian Celebration’ is a renaming of Tulip ‘Happy Generation’.

Tulip ‘Happy Generation’ sure looks like Canada 150. Is it the same? Are there more name changes to discover?

The KAVB tulip registry (ref 3) as well as the National Gardening Association (ref 2) lists Tulip ‘Happy Generation’ as being registered in 1988 by & Sons.

It appears as if Tulip ‘Happy Generation’ is not the same plant as Tulip ‘Carnaval de Rio’. If you Google these two tulips and look at the many pictures posted – they sure look the same. So I decided to do more digging into the facts which are presented below.

Tulip 'Canadian Celebration' is actually Tulip 'Happy Generation'
Tulip ‘Canadian Celebration’ is actually Tulip ‘Happy Generation’

Also available in Canada is Tulip ‘Flaming Baltic’. There is no claim that this is a birthday special, but it looks a lot like the tulips discussed above except it does have some fringing and the color is a purple/red instead of a pure red. This is also a different plant registered in 2011 by J.S. Pennings.

Tulip ‘Happy Generation’ vs Tulip ‘Carnaval de Rio’

To get the facts I contacted KAVB directly and Johan van Scheepen, their Taxonomist / Librarian provided the following information.

The differences between ‘Happy Generation’ and ‘Carnaval de Rio’ are as follows:

Happy Generation (Canadian Celebration):

  • white bud
  • heavier variegation on the leaf margin

Carnaval de Rio (Canada 150):

  • cream colored bud with green markings
  • less variegation on the leaf margin

The final flower color is the same for both cultivars.

Johan went on to say “I would not be surprised if the same commercial photographs are being used for both cultivars. Such things do happen.” This along with the fact that the open flowers look the same would explain why the on line pictures look similar.

The facts are these. The two cultivars are registered as two separate plants. Each has different bud coloration and leaf edges. Tulip ‘Happy Generation’ and Tulip ‘Carnaval de Rio’ are different plants.

Does Canada 150 Contain a Virus?

You might be familiar with tulip mania, a period of time in The Netherlands when tulip bulbs were selling for ridiculous prices. Some of the stories are actually myths and exaggerations, but bulbs did sell for high prices.

Tulip with a virus that looks similar to Tulip Canada 150
Tulip with a virus that looks similar to Tulip Canada 150

Some of the most expensive tulip bulbs sold were streaked in unusual colors, just like the Canada 150. It turns out that these bulbs had a virus, called the Tulip Breaking Virus. This virus created great looking tulips, but it also slowly killed the plants. You can read more about this fascinating topic at The Virus That Destroyed The Dutch Economy.

Be assured that the bulbs being sold today do not carry the virus. The Canada 150 tulip looks like a virused plant but it contains no virus.


Happy Canada Day


  1. NCC Launches Official Canada 150 Tulip;
  2. Tulipa ‘Happy Generation’;
  3. Royal General Bulb Growers’ Association (KAVB);
  4. The Virus That Destroyed The Dutch Economy;
  5. Photo Source of Canada 150; written permission given by NCC (National Capital Commission)
  6. Photo Source of Happy Generation; Cillas
  7. Photo Source, Tulip with virus; Public Domain



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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

6 thoughts on “Canada 150 Tulip – Confusion About Cultivar Names”

  1. Just received my notice today from Home Hardware Central and they are telling me more or less that I didn’t purchase my tulips at our local Home Hardware store. Bought two boxes of the Special Edition 150th Anniversary from the Hardware Store in Pembroke which are the only ones I purchased last year. Mine were yellow and the others were a Fuscia red.

  2. A very disappointing factor in all of this is that Home Hardware does not have any stores in some major cities e.g. Edmonton, AB. Although some of the surrounding towns and small cities have Home Hardware stores, they are sold out of these bulbs and don’t know if they will get any more. It’s a pity that the Canada 150 merchandising committee didn’t check out the availability of stores throughout the country before awarding the exclusive contract!

  3. Robert Palvis; Very interesting article, thank you. Since the tulips are starting to bloom, could you please follow up on the Canada 150 tulip, as it seems some people are posting they are coming up orange, or, not as advertised. I do know that Home Hardware was the “official” supplier, but that several other retailers got on the bandwagon and were selling their stock as the Canada 150 tulip, including Vesseys. Sure hope this is not true as I’ve planted 1500 in my town. Thanks for any input.

    • I read this yesterday – this is almost certainly a case of mixed up bulbs. We’ll see how many were mixed up.

      Vessey did not sell the true Canada 150 bulb.

      • I realize that the Vessey’s bulbs were not the “true” Canada 150 bulb, but that is how they advertised it. One of the comments in your article states the person bough his “Canada 150 bulbs” @ Country Garden, in Chilliwack, BC, so, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Thanks for the quick response.

  4. Thanks Mr. Parvis, for the clarification. I had seen both tulips advertised and wondered about that. Nice to know there is at least a wee bit of difference between two.


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