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The History of Tulips from Turkey to Holland

26-02-2016

You may have heard that tulips "come from Turkey." It would be more accurate to say that before the Europeans paid any attention, the early botanists of the great Ottoman Empire, also called the Turkish Empire, were very interested. In fact, the Turks were cultivating tulips as early as 1,000 AD. But their empire was far larger than modern-day Turkey. Europeans finally imported hail from areas that are now parts of Russia, around the Black Sea, the Crimea, and even the steppes north of the Caucasus, all parts of the ancient Ottoman Empire.

During the glory of the Ottoman Empire, the Sultans celebrated the tulip, and the flowers became part of the trappings of wealth and power. One famous story tells of a Sultan who spent too much on a tulip festival which ultimately led to him "losing his head." So well before the Dutch began their love affair with tulips, they were widely celebrated in their native lands. Today, the tulip is still the national flower of Turkey.

During the 1500's, Europeans became plant explorers, and began recording their findings. Beautiful botanical drawings of tulips began appearing in Europe, so beautiful, in fact, that they gained wide notice. One botanical rendering in particular, called Tulipa bononiensis, became very famous. Others showed the "flamed" tulips that were very exotic to the Europeans, and interest in these "new flowers" continued to grow.

The main flow of the tulip story in Holland actually begins with a botanist named Carolus Clusius, working at the University of Leiden. Clusius was mostly interested in the tulip's scientific importance, probably hoping to find medicinal uses for the bulbs. However, since people in Holland had seen the famous drawings, some became more interested in the flowers as money-makers for the developing ornamental floral trade. This was the beginning of the famous "Tulipomania."

Once a few bulbs got beyond the protective grasp of Clusius, they were considered very precious rarities. As a trade in the bulbs began, the prices began to rise. 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. Just a short time later, one famous sale is recorded for a single bulb going for the equivalent of $2250 plus a horse and carriage! It was an incredible bubble, and it was about to burst.

The crash came in 1637. So ever since those days, the enterprising 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.

So don't miss the chance to send a bunch of stunning colourful tulips to your dear and beloved persons.