Tiptoe Through the Tulips

The humble tulip, for many of us, is a flower of intense color that brightens up the earth after a cold winter of dark, inclement days and months.

The two tulip photos below are springtime scenes from Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

A walk down my street this week reveals the daffodils fading and other spring flowers peaking, but we do not see many tulips here in Northern California. There are one or two, here and there.

Most home and professional gardeners here treat tulips as annuals because our winters aren’t cold enough. Tulips require prolonged exposure to cold weather in order to stimulate flowering in spring. Dedicated home gardeners dig up the bulbs and put them in cold storage to replant.

These are tulips, below, we found on a spring day outside the San Francisco Hyatt.

For a deeper appreciation of the tulip, let’s ahead “across the pond” to Europe and Asia.

Native tulips still grow wild in the mountainous regions of Central Asia (see map at end). Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have endemic tulips, but they are dwindling into endangered status.

The majority of tulips we see today are cultivated.

It is thought that tulips, members of the lily family, were probably cultivated in Persia (now Iran) in the 10th century.

By the 15th century, they were a prized flower and considered to be a symbol of abundance and indulgence.

Northern European diplomats to the Ottoman court observed them and reported on them. In 1573, Carolus Clusius, a pioneering botanist, planted and cultivated tulips at the Vienna Imperial Botanical Gardens; and by 1594 the tulips were on the market and the tulip craze had begun.

The Netherlands, then called the Dutch Republic, was one of the world’s leading economic and financial powers in the 17th century and became the leading trader in tulips.

Between 1634 and 1637, the tulip frenzy escalated. Collectors began paying more and more for a single bulb.

This painting below depicts the rare Semper Augustus variety. At the height of the craze, one bulb sold for 13000 florins, the price of a decent house at the time. (Painting courtesy Wikipedia, anonymous artist)

“Tulip mania” as it was called, could not be sustained, and by 1637 it had collapsed.

Unless you have studied economics and learned about this early form of speculative trading, tulips are not something most of us equate to a devastating 17th century market frenzy that destroyed many people.

More info: Tulip Wikipedia and Wild Tulips Fauna & Flora International

Today the Netherlands remains the Tulip Capital of the World.

Visitors to Amsterdam can find the city flower market on the Singel canal where glasshouses on fixed barges are bursting with flowers.

But a far bigger spring tourist attraction are the formal gardens and nearby tulip fields at Keukenhof flower gardens in Lisse.

This link is a good post about visiting Keukenhof: Best Tulip Fields in the Netherlands

Tulip festivals remain a star attraction all over the world, not just in the Netherlands but in England, Australia, the U.S. and Canada, India and many other countries.

The tulip, sweet tulip, has a bewitching history, attracts folks to the fields from all over the world, and delights us on a blustery spring day.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athen Alexander.

Tulip Distribution: red=natural, yellow=introduced. Courtesy Wikipedia.


52 thoughts on “Tiptoe Through the Tulips

  1. Tulips, en masse, are always breathtaking. The crowds at Keukenhof must be daunting. I remember seeing a video done during the 2020 lockdown when a photographer was allowed in to record the show. The emptiness was eery! Have you ever been to the Skagit Valley tulip festival in WA?

    • Hi Eliza, great to hear about tulips from you, a prolific gardener. I’m a person who stays far away from crowds, so I do not attend any kind of festival–even tulips–but I do enjoy seeing the tulips en masse. The color intensity of tulips in a large swath is glorious. Thanks so very much, Eliza.

    • Hi Timothy. I read that Tiny Tim made the song famous, as we know, but it actually goes back to Nick Lucas, a popular guitarist in 1929, who introduced the song in the musical “talkie” film Gold Diggers of Broadway. Who knew it went back nearly one hundred years. Thanks very much for your visit today, Timothy.

      • So many songs made popular by other artists go way back. Often the originals are the best versions too.

    • It was really fun putting together a tulip celebration, Deborah, and I’m happy you enjoyed it. I agree, it has such an interesting and l.o.n.g. history. Cheers.

  2. Wow very interesting about tulips. I had no idea but now I know why we don’t have tulips here in Southern Georgia. I do miss them.

    • I’m glad you found the tulip post interesting, Bill, and I think the history of tulips and what conditions they like is interesting, too. They go back so far. Always a pleasure to see you here, Bill, and it is much appreciated.

  3. Thank you for this dear Jet. The tulip is my daughter’s favourite bloom and my paternal grandmother went to Holland every spring just to see the tulips…….A sight to. behold indeed:)
    We are experiencing a very cold spring this year and although we have lots of flowers and trees ….are all waiting for some prolonged warm sunshine:). Enjoy a beautiful weekend. .

    • I really enjoyed hearing about your paternal grandmother going to Holland every spring to see the tulips, Janet. She sounds like she was an adventurous traveler who revered beauty…and that you took after her. And your daughter too. Many thanks, Janet, and sending a big smile to you today…hope it warms up there soon.

  4. Tulips are one of my favorite flowers. As you well know, growing up in the Midwest there was never a shortage of these beauties every spring. Loved visiting Holland, MI during the tulip season.

    • So nice to see you Ingrid! I was delighted to see you in the AZ photo when you recently got together with other bloggers, and am delighted to see you here. I’m happy you enjoyed the tulip post today, and that it brought back pleasant memories of the tulips in the Midwest and the Holland MI festival. My warmest thanks and good wishes to you.

    • Yes, I, too, did a lot of smiling and scratching my head as I researched this tulip history, pc. Really enjoyed your visit today, pc, as I always do. My best to you and Mrs. PC for a sweet weekend ahead.

  5. Who knew? You find the most amazing stories, Jet. So delighted that you share them with us! These photos were gorgeous, and the article about tulips in the Netherlands was fascinating, too.

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the tulip post today, Nan, I had a good time digging into the information of this flower with a very long history. Glad you enjoyed the Keukenhof post too, she did a good job. Thank you, Nan, so very much.

  6. We love tulips, dear Jet, especially the monochrome simple red and yellow ones.
    Many, many years ago, we lived near Keukenhof – well, we had the feeling these are too many tulips there. We once visited the Ottawa Tulip Festival as well, not as bombastic as Keukenhof.
    We blogged about tulips about two years ago
    There are a lot of novels and non-fiction book about tulips. It seems to be that tulips fascinate.
    Have a happy weekend
    The Fab Four of Cley
    πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    • Hi Fab Four, yes, I agree, tulips do indeed fascinate us humans. And the interesting thing is, they have been fascinating us for centuries. Cheers to you all, and thanks.

  7. Our tulips didn’t do too well this year. I like primary color tulips the best – the deep reds, blues and yellows. To see a field of them is truly stunning. They used to have a tulip festival at Pier 39 but that was before the pandemic. Love your pictures of the park!

    • I enjoyed hearing about the former tulip festival at Pier 39, Jan, I didn’t know about that one. Glad you liked the Golden Gate Park photos. I was boppin’ around at Ocean Beach one March day in 2015, and came across the tulips at the base of the windmill. Cheers to you, and thanks.

  8. Tulips are certainly wonderful en masse. I prefer them when not planted in a pattern. Such a variety of colors but one of my favorites is the type that has both red and yellow/orange because they look so vibrant. Descanso Gardens in Pasadena has a wonderful display (or displays) of tulips when in season. I do love that garden but only rarely get to see it now that our daughter doesn’t live in Pasadena. We used to have tulips in our garden both in Illinois and in Ohio.

    • I loved hearing about your tulip times, Janet, with your preferences for colors and displays, your own growing of them, and the Descanso Gardens in Pasadena. We love our tulips. My warmest thanks.

  9. Have you read the book “The Botany of Desire,” by Michael Pollan, Jet? It’s a great book that covers tulips, apples, marijuana and potatoes as I recall. Anyway, he provided an excellent overview of the great tulip bust. All in all a fascinating book that we read for our Book Club.

  10. A very Spring like post. Tulips just seem to make people happy everywhere. I just returned from an extended road trip. The daffodils are just starting to poke up at Lexington & Concord. We traveled from Winter to Summer and back depending upon elevation and how far North we were.

    • Oh I’m glad to hear you’re safely back from your long road trip, Craig. And I can imagine it was quite an array of seasons going all the way to the east coast and back. Yes, I agree, tulips seem to make people happy everywhere. Many thanks, my friend.

  11. Have seen an incredible gathering of tulips in Ottawa that left me breathless
    many years ago. Today these are distinctively beautiful in mass Jet!
    So many colors! So many places!
    We can’t grow them here. Just too hot!
    Have a great weekend!

    • I enjoyed hearing about your visit to the Ottawa tulip festival, Eddie, and glorifying in its beauty. I had no idea…great to know. Wonderful to get your happy message, Eddie, and I send my best to you for a happy weekend.

  12. I grew up about twenty miles or so from Pella, Iowa: a Dutch settlement through and through. I still order certain Christmas treats from a bakery there, and it’s still possible to hear the language spoken in the streets and cafΓ©s. Every year they have an extravagant tulip festival, complete with street washing, garden and windmill tours, and parades. In fact, our high school band marched in the parade every year — in wooden shoes!

    The tulips there are magnificent, like this. This year, it will be held on the first weekend of May, and I’d love to be there. We grew tulips at home, too, and I well remember the Easter when it snowed so much that only the fully opened blooms were visible about the snow. They looked for all the world like colorful votive cups all lined up.

    • I truly enjoyed hearing about Pella, Iowa, Linda, and your young life there. I was in the h.s. marching band at my school, too, but I cannot even imagine trying to march in wooden shoes!! I so enjoyed hearing about the town, and seeing the photo, that I went to Wikipedia. Saw that the town has the tallest working windmill in the United States and operates on wind only. Loved this story and the tulip connection too. My warmest thanks.

  13. In 1945, the Dutch royal family gifted 100,000 tulip bulbs to Canada as a thank-you for safely sheltering some of its members during the war years, and for liberating its citizens in the Netherlands from Nazi occupation.
    The Netherlands continues to send 20,000 bulbs to Canada each year (10,000 from the Royal Family and 10,000 from the Dutch Bulb Growers Association).
    The tulip is one of my favorite flower and I can’t seem to get enough of them. Thank you, Jet for bringing them into my home! ❀

    • Hello Carol and thank you for this wonderful niblet of Canadian tulip history–it was very interesting, and well told. I love this story. Cheers and tulips to you, my friend.

  14. Thanks for the additional information on Tulips. I have to humbly admit I now very little about flowers (and plants in general) so always appreciate it when I can get a little smarter. I just know they have pretty flowers and they make me happy ha.

    • Sometimes knowing that something makes you happy is all you need to know, so how wonderful that you enjoy tulips, Brian, and the tulip post. Now if we could only find a tulip species with wings and running legs. πŸ˜‰

  15. Loved tiptoeing through your post today, Jet. I love that spot by the windmill in SF. So pretty! Tulips are such happy flowers and your telling of their history is interesting. The gardens here are brimming with tulips – it’s been uplifting to see them. Glad you are enjoying the rewards of a fabulous spring! 🌷

    • I am delighted you enjoyed tiptoeing through the tulip post, Jane. I think they’re a happy flower, too, and with such a l.o.n.g and interesting history. My warmest thanks for your lovely and cheerful visit today.

  16. Jet, this is such interesting history!
    Thank you for all the research. I just love it!
    I live in Canada, and yes, tulip time is a joy here!

    πŸ’‹πŸ’‹ (I couldn’t resist this emoji pun)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s