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Perhaps no country in the world is more associated with any flower than the tulip is with Holland or the Netherlands. Most people think it originated in that country but its origins are actually far to the east. As I mentioned last week I had the rare opportunity this spring to visit the spectacular flower bulb production fields there but I also had the chance to participate in a wonderful floral exhibition called Floriade. It is equivalent to a world's fair of horticulture.
Floriade has some 100 countries and suppliers from throughout the world represented. It covers 163 acres and will remain as a beautiful park when the exposition closes in October 2012.
One of the countries represented is Turkey. Their presentation told the tulip story from their side. One part of the story is that Holland celebrated their 400th year anniversary of diplomatic relationships with Turkey and the previous rulers of that country this year. No tulips grow naturally within 500 miles of Holland. They are native to eastern Asia, southern Europe and North Africa. They are the national flower of both Iran and Turkey. The Turks were cultivating tulips by about 1000 A. D.
Carolus Clusius is credited with introducing the tulip to Holland in 1593 when he became the head of the new Leiden Botanical Garden and started planting the bulbs. In my visit there, I saw it still flourishing today along with tulips which would be similar to the ones he grew.
No one knew how wildly popular the plants would become. They were so rare that only the wealthy could afford them and they quickly became a status symbol for the prosperous Dutch.
By the year 1624, tulips became so popular that one renowned white and maroon "Rembrandt-type" tulip bulb sold for 4,500 guilders ($2,250 U.S.), plus a horse and carriage. Other records show that a handful of bulbs sold for the equivalent of a large house.
"Tulipmania" spread and reached its zenith in 1637. It was known as "The Foolish Tulip Trade" or "The Wild Tulip Speculation" and is often compared with the US stock market craze and crash of the 1920s.
It could be compared with the wild speculation in computers in the US because the tulips that were highly sought after were the distinctive Rembrandt-type or bicolors with patterns. These had distinctive flames or broken stripes of color that gave each flower its unique pattern.
Solid-colored tulips were not fashionable nor highly sought after. The striping was what made the flowers so desirable, but so devastating. It turned out that the striped tulips were infected with a devastating virus. These diseases eventually caused the bulbs to die. If you had paid thousands of dollars for a single bulb, you would not be sucked into the speculation a second time, so much like todays computer crashes, "Tulipmania" ended because of a virus.
Dutch growers are very careful to avoid any problems in their fields. Each day, trained workers scour the fields and quickly eliminate any flowers or plants that show any symptoms. Modern, striped tulips are genetically stable flamed look-alikes hybrids that duplicate the famous bicolor, broken-stripe appearance.
The Dutch dominate world tulip production with more than 23,000 acres grown each year. Some three billion bulbs are grown annually for both garden and cut flowers. The extensive color range covers almost all colors except black (really dark maroon) and blue (a faint violet hue). There are more than 100 described species of tulips, most cultivated ones are from one species, Tulipa gesneriana. Within this group we find the hundreds of different sizes, shapes and types.
Tulips grow from 4 to 28 inches high and usually produce one flower per stem. A few cultivars produce multiple flowers on the same stem Tulips are generally cup or star shaped with three petals and three sepals that are nearly identical in size and shape.
The origin of the name is uncertain but may become from Persia. It is thought that some tulips resemble a turban and the name is derived from that.
Although the plants normally would be grown in a Mediterranean climate with cool moist winters, that flourish in Holland. Growers plant them in late fall and the cool, moist, winters provide chilling that the bulbs need plus the moisture to grow the next spring.
The bulbs spend the summer out of the soil because after they Bloom, they are dug, sorted and prepared for sale. They are then replanted or so sold the next fall to propagate more tulips or to beautify gardens around the world.