Chicago unveils new 'Magnificent Mile Tulip' in spring display

One of Chicago’s best springtime traditions is getting even better.

A special tulip is growing among the thousands that brighten Michigan Avenue this time of year and it’s special because it’s named after the Magnificent Mile itself.

"I think they’re beautiful," said one woman while walking by a bed of the colorful flowers. "Really puts a smile on people’s face when the weather is starting to turn around."

It’s been a Michigan Avenue tradition for more than 50 years. Tens of thousands of tulips create islands of bright colors, both in raised planters in the middle of the street and along sidewalks all the way from the Chicago River to Oak Street.

Kimberly Bares, president of The Magnificent Mile Association, said it’s a welcome sign that warm weather is ahead.

"We in Chicago often have a long hard dark winter. And seeing the tulips come out of the ground, they almost smile. So it’s a symbol of hope. A symbol of endurance. Symbol of light and of course beauty," Bares said.

On Wednesday, The Magnificent Mile got a tulip of its own.

In a ceremony at Michigan and Ontario, the consul general of the Netherlands poured champagne or "baptized" the Magnificent Mile Tulips — a tradition from home.

"Well you know you can do it with water, but the tradition is that we do it with champagne," said Consul General Bart Twaalfhoven. "That happens also in the Netherlands."

The Magnificent Mile Tulip emerges yellow and then slowly turns a tangerine-orange color. They were chosen to represent Chicago because they are extremely sturdy and can withstand all the Windy City has to offer.

"It’s a Darwin hybrid, so a very sturdy stem," said Jennifer Brennan, horticulturalist at the Chalet Garden Center in Wilmette. "Look how they’ve blown over in the wind and nothing has broken off. So that’s what makes them so worthy of being the Magnificent Mile Tulip."

North Michigan Avenue could use some cheer right now, with many stores closing and retail space for lease.

"But, we think we’re moving in the right direction," said Bares. "All of our data, all of our metrics show that we’re on the rise, and that’s what we want to see. Having these tulips and having all of these other events give people even more reason to come downtown and what we’re saying to folks now is, 'if you’re not downtown, you’re missing out,'" Bares said.

If you’d like a little Magnificent Mile in your own backyard, you can order the tulips online now, 20 to a box, and they’ll be delivered in time for fall planting.