For September, we visit the land of tulips and windmills – the Netherlands!
Rather than focus on cultural floral traditions this month, I thought we’d hear a story about tulips that turned The Netherlands – and the known world – upside down in the 17th century, causing a stock market crash, loss of property and houses, and wholesale mania!
A bit of background: the Tulip was actually originally a wildflower growing in Central Asia. It was first cultivated by the Turks as early as 1000AD. Mania in Turkey struck in the 16th century, at the time of the Ottoman Empire, when the Sultan demanded cultivation of certain flowers for his pleasure. The name 'tulip' came from the Turkish word for turban. Wild tulips are much more ovoid and delicate than the heavier, bulbous French or Dutch tulips, and are significantly smaller in blooms. So, yes, Tulips are not native to the Netherlands; they are from central Asia and Turkey and adapt well to rocky terrain. Holland's first tulip bloomed in 1593 and the country fell in love.
Tulips in Turkey continued to remain popular, and in the early 18th century, the 'Age of the Tulips' or 'Tulip Era' began. There were tulip festivals and parades, and it was a crime (punishable by exile) to buy or sell tulips outside the capital.
The flowers were introduced into Western Europe and the Netherlands in the late 16th century, probably by Carolus Clusius, who was a biologist from Vienna.
In the 1590s, Clusius became the director of the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden, the oldest botanical garden of Europe, founded in 1587. He was hired by the University of Leiden to research medicinal plants. While doing so, his friend in Turkey, Ogier Ghislaine de Busbecq, the ambassador of Constantinople (present day Istanbul), had seen the beautiful tulip flowers growing in the palace gardens, and so sent a few to Clusius for his garden in Leiden. This was the start of the bulb fields in the Netherlands that can be seen today.
In the beginning of the 17th century, the tulip was starting to be used as a garden decoration instead of the former medicinal purposes. It soon gained major popularity as a trading product, especially in Holland. The interest for the flowers was huge and bulbs were sold for unbelievable high prices.
Botanists started to hybridize the flower and they soon found ways of making even more decorative and tempting specimens, such as ruffled-edge parrot tulips, color-streaked tulips, and ombre. 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 "Tulipomania" in the Netherlands. Some examples could cost more than a house in Amsterdam at this time.
There was an inevitable crash in prices in 1637, when people came to their senses and stopped purchasing the bulbs at such high prices. “You can’t eat tulips” became the bywords of the day. Due to the crash, some merchants lost everything, as they’d bought so many bulbs at extravagant prices that were now worth nothing. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, interest in the tulip remained, but the Dutch became the true connoisseurs and hybridizers. Today, millions of tulips grow in the Netherlands each year and this country is now famous for being the world's largest flower exporter.
The moral of the story of Tulipomania? Well, I’ll leave that up to you guys to decide. In the meantime, if you want to read more about Tulipomania, there are many books written about the phenomenon, both fiction and non-fiction. Do yourself a favor and check them out!
Next month, off to the USA again, and The Rose Bowl Parade!