Tulip fever! Historical tulips

When a lot op people think of Tulips, they think of the Netherlands, but the story of Tulips does certainly not start there. According to Wikipedia the word tulip was first mentioned in western Europe in or around 1554. Tulips came orginialy from Turkey and the word Tulip came from the Persian name for Turban. Plants were often named after there unique shapes/qualities or beautiful colors. The shape of the Tulip is very distinct and indeed looks like the shape of a Turban. Today the national flower of Turkey is still the Tulip.

Tulipmania or Tulip fever

In march 1637 Tulipmania reached its height in the Netherlands. During the Dutch Golden Age tulips were very popular. They gained so much popularity that the prices of Bulbs skyrocketed.

Some single tulip bulbs were sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.

Key figure in the whole Tulip mania was Vlemish doctor and one of the first Botanists: Carolus Clusius (1526 – 1609). He was the first who took some bulbs from the Ottoman empire to Leiden. In his garden (Hortus Academicus in Leiden) he experimented with the Bulbs for medicinal purposes. In Leiden he laid the fundament for the tulips breeding and bulb industry today. The Dutch became more familiar with Tulips during these days. Some Dutch painters began to paint and draw them. More and more people saw the value of the bulbs in not in medicine but in Floral trade. One day some of the bulbs from Clusius’ garden got stolen. This action was not the beginning of the actual Tulipmania and Clusius died long before it even was a fact, but it sure shows how much the Tulip was admired at that time.

Special tulip vases

As the popularity during the Dutch Golden Age for Tulips grew, special vases were invented for Tulips. The so called pyramids were often made in Dutch Delftware. Because of the expensiveness of the Tulip, the bulbs were sold individually. So vases had special openings for one Tulip. Vases with a lot of tulips next to each other were unimaginable in those days.

Stripes on Tulips are caused by a virus

Carolus Clusius was the first to describe the effects of this breaking tulip virus. He stated:

“… any tulip thus changing its original colour is usually ruined afterwards and so wanted only to delight its master’s eyes with this variety of colours before dying, as if to bid him a last farewell.”

The cause of the strips would remain unknown and it would take until the end of the 19th century scientists discovered it was an infection of the bulb. Today the Tulips are ‘broken’ through breeding, but there are still some infected variaties. Usually these Tulips are more fragile. The Absalon Tulip (also know as the Rembrandt Tulip and dates back to 1780) is a very rare and old variety with a amazing colour combination caused by the breaking virus.

The oldest and still existing Tulips

Unfortunately a lot of varieties got extinct, but there are stille some varieties that date back to post Dutch Golden Ages.


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