History and Meaning of Tulips


Tulips – Perfect Love

Family: Liliaceae tulips.jpgThe history of the Tulip is filled with intrigue, skulduggery, thievery, instant fortunes and broken hearts. And, although these flowers are synonymous with the Dutch, Tulips did not originate in the Netherlands nor were the Dutch always at the forefront of breeding these beauties.

The Dutch obsession with Tulips belongs to the relatively recent history of the Tulip. If only Tulips could talk, they’d tell many interesting and twisted tales about their history. Unfortunately they can’t talk which makes tracing their history a “mission impossible” – although many have tried. The attempts to trace the exact history of the Tulip have been thwarted by a lack of reliable documentation over the centuries although art from as early as the 12th century does give some clues.

 What historians have been able to establish is that Tulips probably originated thousands of years ago in a ‘corridor’ which stretches along the 40º latitude between Northern China and Southern Europe. 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 1590’s 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’’ home was a way to impress and, when the wealth spread down the social ladder, so did the urge for tulips.   

The period of absurd speculation became known as “Tulipomania” (officially 1636 – 1637) and the phenomenon was so intense that it still puzzles historians and economists until this day. Such was the absurdity of the period that, at the peak of Tulipomania, a single bulb could be sold for a price which could have purchased a house in the best parts of Amsterdam! (The equivalent of 15 year’s wages for the average bricklayer).

Over the following decades, interest in the Tulip rose and fell but the Dutch maintained a commercial devotion to these flowers (today they export 1.2 billion bulbs annually).  In history, the Dutch will be remembered for their passion for tulips. After 400-plus years, theirs is an enduring love affair. First introduced to Holland in 1593, the tulip has become a symbol for the country. Today nearly half of Holland’s 47,150 acres of flower bulb farms are planted with tulip bulbs (23,412 acres).  

Like many flowers, different colors of tulips also often carry their own significance. Red tulips are associated with true love, purple symbolizes royalty, yellow tulips represent cheerful thoughts and sunshine. White tulips signify worthiness or “will you forgive me?

Source: http://www.tesselaar.net.au and http://www.holland.nl)

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