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The Tulip

The tulip was synonymous with wealth and power among Sultans and became interwoven in middle-eastern folklore. According to legend, there once was a prince who rode his horse off a cliff after learning his lover had died. He, of course, died as well and it’s said that a scarlet tulip grew from each drop of blood (I imagine there were lots of tulips). This is why, historically, the tulip has been depicted as a symbol of true and perfect love. Scholars speculate that the name “tulip” is derived from the Persian word for “turban”, which the flower broadly resembles.

photo by J. Parkers

The tulip is the national flower of Turkey, the country from which the flower is said to originate, however its true origin is much harder to pinpoint. Records suggest botanists from the Ottoman Empire were the first to grow tulips and their influence was much greater than modern-day Turkey. The Ottomans occupied stretches along the Black Sea, Russia and even Asia; where the flower was cultivated before even the tenth century. The tulip would remain exclusive to this far-reaching empire for centuries, until western diplomats observed their beauty in the 1500’s. After successful trading, the flower was introduced to Europe where it was met with frenzied acclaim.

Europeans were dazzled by the tulip’s beauty, but none more enthralled than those from the Netherlands. Carolus Clusius, the recently appointed head botanist of Western Europe’s first botanical garden, was determined to get his tenure off to a good start. After seeing beautiful drawings of the exotic flower, Clusius became obsessed with bringing the tulip to his fellow Dutchmen. Through a connection in Asia he was able to obtain some bulbs and began testing the flower for any medicinal properties. However, when the flower produced little to no hope in the medical field, he decided that it would be best used as an ornamental. Little did Clusius know, others had also seen the drawings and the tulip was about to soar in popularity.

Carolus Clusius was the only person in the country who had access to the flower and only sold them away to the highest of bidders; mainly royalty and those well connected. It wasn’t long before bulbs were stolen from the botanist’s home and the rest is, well, history.  Bulbs from the newly imported flower made their way around the country with demand sky-high and a price-point to match. It was “Tulip Mania”; a term still used today to describe an economic bubble. The Netherlands love affair with the tulip never ended, however, and they are now the largest producers of commercially grown tulips in the world; cultivating nearly 10 billion flowers each year.

The petals of a tulip most commonly form in shades of red, pink, yellow or white. The bottom of the petals will usually have some variation in color on the interior side. The bulbs should be planted 4-8 inches below the ground and 4-6 inches apart. The tulip is a perennial so plant it in late summer or fall and expect to see blooms in the spring. Join in on the mania and plant some tulips today!


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