Friday, December 3, 2010

The Origin of the Tulip



The Tulip was originally a wild flower, growing in Central Asia. It was first cultivated by the Turks as early as 1000 AD; the flower was introduced in Western Europe and the Netherlands in the 17th century by Carolus Clusius, a famous biologist from Vienna. In the 1590s he became the director of the Hortus Botanicus, the oldest botanical garden of Europe, in Leiden. He was hired by the University of Leiden to research medicinal plants and, while doing so, he received some bulbs from his friend, Ogier de Busbecq, the Ambassador to Constantinople (presently Istanbul). He had seen the beautiful flower called the tulip, after the Turkish word for turban, growing in the palace gardens and sent a few to Clusius for his garden in Leiden. He planted them and this was the beginning of the amazing bulb fields we see today.

In the beginning of the 17th century, the tulip was starting to be used as a garden decoration in addition to its medicinal use. It soon gained major popularity as a trading product, especially in Holland. The interest in the flower was huge and bulbs sold for unbelievably high prices. Botanists began to hybridize the flower. They soon found ways of making the tulip even more decorative and tempting. Hybrids and mutations of the flower were seen as rarities and a sign of high status. In the months of late 1636 to early 1637, there was a complete "Tulipmania" in the Netherlands. Some varieties could cost more than an Amsterdam house at that time. Even ordinary men took part in the business. They saw how much money the upper class made in the commodity and thought it was an easy way of getting lots of money with no risk. The bulbs were usually sold by weight while they were still in the ground. This trade in un-sprouted flowers came to be called "wind trade".

The traders made huge amounts of money every month. People started selling their businesses, family homes, farm animals, furnishing and dowries to participate. The government could not do anything to stop "Tulipmania"; the trade was all about access and demand. Finally, the tulip did not appear to quite so rare as to justify such high prices. Over-supply led to lower prices and dealers went bankrupt while many people lost their savings because of the trade. This "Tulip Crash" made the government introduce special trading restrictions on the flower. It is said that the tulip became so popular because of its bright colours, dramatic flames and frilly petals. To have tulips in one's home was a way to impress and, when the wealth spread down the social ladder, so did the urge for tulips.

In the 20th century it was discovered that the frilly petals and dramatic flames that gave the flower its stunning look were, in fact, the symptoms of an infection by the mosaic virus. The healthy flower was supposed to be solid, smooth and monotone. The virus came to the tulip from a louse living on peaches and potatoes. Diseased varieties of tulips are no longer sold. What you find today are hybrids that look similar but are genetically stable.

Borrowed in detail from the website

What do Tulips Mean?

Beautiful and romantic, tulip blooms are right for any occasion! The reason being, tulips have enjoyed an important position in our history and culture. In the ancient times, tulips were worn inside a turban in Turkey. (Tulips belong originally to Persia and Turkey.) Once the popularity of tulips spread, it was associated with true love. This was also because of certain Turkish legends. Over the years, however, the meaning of tulips has changed with time. In terms of color, red symbolizes love where as yellow tulips symbolize happiness in one’s life. A purple tulip stands for royalty where as white tulips signify peace or forgiveness. When one takes a trip back into time, one can know many more interesting facts about tulips. Tulips have a center that is velvet in texture and almost black in color, and this is said to represent the heart of a lover that is fired with passion!

From the site


  1. I'm watching "The Botany of Desire" on Netflix right now. What a coincidence.

  2. Hi Donn,

    There's a great book by Alexandre Dumas (from the three musketeers...) called The Black Tulip (La tulipe noir - de zwarte tulp)about the ordeals concerning growing the "perfect" black tulip.

    Martin Koopman (remember...?)

  3. Martin my friend, of course I remember you, how is life, send me an update, where is Peter these days?


  4. Well, hello Donn, old friend. Sorry to be responding this late... Life is good, although a bit stressed, since our two children are starting their exams tomorrow. It's a bit awkward writing personal stuff in a public domainarea; if i'm doing it right my e-mailaddress will be enclosed in this message. I feel somewhat more at ease to write about my life if I know not everybody is watching :-)
    It's good to read your blogspot, apart from being interesting it feels like talking to an old friend.
    Peter is doing ok (i think....) living in Regina.
    How are you doing these days? Travelling a lot I understand (and a daughter in Egypt? that could cost you a lot of sleep).

    I'm curious how you are doing! If you let know your emailaddress I feel free to send some pictures to let you see what the years did to us. (although we don't need all the abbreviations yet) (i think)