Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tulips: A long and unexpected history

On the package of tulip bulbs, you’ll almost always find some words that say, “Product of Holland”.  Holland has long been known as the exporter of tulip bulbs for us gardeners here in the US.  However, the tulip has a long history before it ever came onto Dutch soil. 

The tulip was originally a native wildflower from Central Asia.   The name tulip comes from the Turkish word tulbend, which means turban.  They were cultivated by the Turks as early as 1000 AD.  During the Ottoman Empire in Turkey of the 1500s, the sultan had the tulips cultivated for pleasure.  The tulips were first brought to Europe by Carolus Clusius, a biologist, who received some bulbs from the gardens in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey).  Once they reached Holland, the tulip bulbs became so popular that it created Tulip Mania (1636-1637).  This was a time when bulbs were bought and sold at incredibly high prices.  It became the equivalent of our gold rush with bulbs being bought and sold by the wealthy and prices skyrocketing almost overnight.  They became a symbol of wealth in an owner’s garden.  Like many other investments through history, there was the “crash” of 1637 when tulip prices plummeted.  The bulbs did not bring in the price they’d hoped, and the obsession with tulips slowed.  Prices returned to a more “normal” price.

Over the centuries, the love of tulips has come and gone in other countries, however, the Dutch remained devoted to developing and cultivating the tulip bulb.  This is why today they are associated so closely with Holland.  As you see your tulips beginning to bloom this spring, be proud of its long history.  I’m thankful that they have made it from the hills of Central Asia, to my gardens in Pennsylvania…and for only a few dollars a bag of bulbs!


  1. I have been wanting a tulip wreath for my front door--now I want one even more! My husband will sort-of hate you for this b/c I am not craft AT ALL and this means I will need to pursuing buying one...;)

    1. Sounds pretty! Look on etsy. :)