Tulipomania (n.) A violent passion for the acquisition or cultivation of tulips
The History of Tulips
The Tulip has a long, exciting and unique history that has led to the great variety of myths, folklore and symbolism that have come to be associated with this beautiful flower.
Today, we associate Tulips (and most bulb flowers) with Holland however, Holland is, in fact, no bulb’s ancestral home! Tulips are from Central Asia, Daffodils are from Spain and Portugal, Dahlias come from Mexico, Amaryllis is native to South America, Freesias and Callas come from South Africa, and most of the species of “wild” lilies are from China, Japan, and North America. The wild forms of these bulb flowers have been developed by Dutch flower hybridizers to produce the amazing variety of flowers we are now familiar with and seek for our home gardens. Most of the true “wild” forms of these bulbs are still available, but with all the glamor of the hybrids, the wild ones are more difficult to find.
There are about 150 species of “wild tulips” that originate from the Pamir Alai and Tien-Shan Mountain Ranges (near modern day Russian/Chinese border), and east into China and West into France and Spain, with the majority coming from Central Asia.
Three famous wild forms of Tulips:
“Lilac Wonder”, Tulipa bakeri
The “Lilac Wonder”, Tulipa bakeri is a 6-8” tall wild tulip, native to the Greek Island of Crete.
One of the more difficult to find "wild" forms of tulips
“Peppermint Stick, Tulipa clusiana
The “Peppermint Stick, Tulipa clusiana is a 13” tall wild tulip native to the mountains of Afghanistan and Iran
Fun red and white botanical Tulips
“Tarda”, Tulipa tarda
The “Tarda”, Tulipa tarda is a small 5-6” tall wild tulip from Central Asia. This valuable native tulip used extensively in hybridizing
A valuable native tulip used extensively in hybridizing
Tulips in Turkey
The glorification of the Tulip probably started in Ottoman Empire of Turkey as early as 1,000 AD. During this time, the Sultans celebrated the Tulip flower and came to believe it could help bring wealth and power. Today the tulip is still the national flower of Turkey.
Famous Turkish Tulip Legend
One famous Turkish lore tells of a very handsome prince named Farhad who fell deeply in love with a fair maiden named Shirin. One day, news spread to the prince that Shirin had been killed. In his grief, the prince mounted his horse and rode it over a cliff to his death. According to the legend, each droplet of his blood caused a scarlet colored tulip to spring up, making the tulip a historic symbol of “perfect” love.
The deep red color of the "Red Emperor" reminds us of the price's blood
Europe is introduced to the Tulip
During the 1500’s European botanists began recording their findings in beautiful drawings. Many of these early tulip renderings began appearing in Europe. The flowers depicted were so beautiful and unique that they gained wide notice. One of the most famous of these early botanic drawings, called “Tulipa bononiesnsis”, become very famous and helped spark a great interest in these flowers. Paintings depicting these “new flowers” were very exotic to Europeans and helped fuel the fire for what was soon to become the great tulip craze!
The famous Tulipa bononiensis which looks a lot like our “Red Emperor” tulips today
In the late 16th century a botonist named Carolus Clusius was the head botanist (called the “Hortulanus”) at the University of Leiden. During Clusius’ earlier work in Vienna, he had met a man named DeBusbecq. DeBusbecq was the ambassador to the court of the Sultan in Constantinople, the seat of the Ottoman Empire. As a gift, DeBusbecq gave Clusius some tulip bulbs from Central Asia. Clusias brought these bulbs with him to Holland and began studying the unique flowers, probably in hopes of finding medicinal uses for the bulbs. Since the people of Holland had seen the beautiful botanical drawing circulating throughout Europe, many investors became interested in the flowers as “money-makers” in the developing floral trade market.
Clusias contributed the desirability of the tulip bulbs by being very secretive and protective of the bulbs. The public became so fascinated with the mysterious flowers that some were even stolen from his gardens. This was the beginning of what has come to be known as the famous “Tulipomania”.
During the 17th century, when the tulip bulbs got beyond the protective grasp of Clusias, the great rise and fall of the “great tulip craze” began. The bulbs were considered very precious rarities and their price quickly began to rise. Through the early 1600’s the prices skyrocketed as an actual trading market for Tulip Bulbs developed. As the hybrids became more and more glamorous, the limited supply of certain bulbs became highly prized by the rich who, ultimately, were willing to pay almost any price. By 1624, one tulip type, with only 12 bulbs available, was selling for 3000 guilders per bulb, the equivalent of about $1500 today! This bulb was similar to today’s “Rembrandt Tulips” which sell for about $0.50 a bulb! During the peak of the tulip craze, one famous sale is recorded for a single bulb going for the equivalent of $2250 plus a horse and carriage!
During the 1630s, the frenzy continued as notarized bills of sale were being issued for bulbs, fraud and speculation were rampant, and the incredible tulip bubble was about to burst. The crash came in 1637. Many rich traders became paupers overnight, and the prices finally settled at a much more practical level.
The settling of “Tulipomania” did not reduce the real demand and the love of the sheer beauty of the tulip flowers. The tulip market has been maintained and the Dutch have built one of the best organized production and export businesses in the world. Today, over nine billion flower bulbs are produced each year in Holland, and about 7 billion of them are exported, for an export value of three quarters of a billion dollars. The USA is the biggest importer of Dutch bulbs importing around $130,000,000 worth of Dutch bulbs (at wholesale) every year!
Over nine billion flower bulbs are produced each year in Holland, and about 7 billion of them are exported