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.