From tulips to chrysanthemums, our series “The Language of Flowers” explores everything from flower care tips to flower symbolism and meaning.
Tulips are native to Central Asia
Tulips are wildflowers native to central Asia in the Tien Shan Mountains near the Russian-Chinese border. They spread west and were cultivated in the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey) by 1000 A.D. when the sultans introduced huge beds of tulips to parks and palace gardens.
The tulip industry got its start in Holland
In the 1500s, Carolus Clusius, a botanist at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, received some tulip bulbs from the ambassador to the sultan. Clusius grew the plants in his private collection, but he would not share his bulbs or sell them. As a result, the gardens were repeatedly raided and the bulbs sold. Holland’s tulip industry was born.
Tulip Mania is one of the most famous market crashes of all time
As the popularity of tulips in Holland grew, the bulbs’ value increased. They were considered a rarity and commanded an enormous price that only the wealthy could afford. There was a rush on tulip bulbs from 1634 to 1637 as speculators bought them hoping to sell at a high price. Many did during Tulip Mania, or the tulip craze, but in 1637 too many speculators sold at once and the tulip market crashed, ending Tulip Mania.
Holland is still the largest producer of tulips
Tulip Mania ended in 1637, but the fascination with tulips was deeply rooted and grew into a huge commercial enterprise. Today, Holland is the largest producer of tulips worldwide, exporting about 3 billion bulbs per year.
Striped tulips were originally created from a virus
Tulips come in many solid colors, but there are striped ones, too. These unusual tulips were greatly prized and sold for a high price since the 1600s, but in 1931, scientists discovered that the coloring was caused by a virus spread by aphids (sap-sucking insects). Today, this coloring is reproduced artificially. The virus is still used to alter the DNA, but it’s done without aphids.
Tulips inspired many forms of art
Islamic art has featured tulips since the time of the sultans. Elsewhere, German painter Jacob Marrel created a book of paintings to market the different tulip varieties. His work inspired designs on textiles and furniture. The flowers were also seen in still life paintings of the Dutch Old Masters during the 1600s. In the mid-1800s, tulips were a favorite subject in the Arts and Crafts movement, and Tiffany tulip lamps were produced in the late 1800s.
The word “tulip” comes from a Persian word meaning “turban”
The word “tulip” comes from the graceful shape of the flower and the bulb that inspired the word “tülbend,” a Turkish pronunciation of the Persian word “dulband,” which means turban.
Keukenhof is the largest tulip garden in the world
Keukenhof in Holland is one of the largest gardens in the world. It’s home to the largest tulip garden where over 7 million tulips bloom in April and May.
There are over 3,500 varieties of tulips
There are over 3,500 named varieties of tulips on the market today, organized into 15 groups:
Single Early: short tulips with large, round flowers
Double Early: double-flowered and larger than the single early group
Triumph: sturdy, mid-season tulips of varying shapes
Darwin Hybrid: large-flowered tulips on tall stems
Single Late Group: small, rounded flowers on stiff stems
Lily-flowered: mid-season, tall-stemmed, graceful flowers that flare outward
Fringed: petals with fringed edges that are mid- to late-flowering
Viridiflora: late-blooming, green flowers
Rembrandt: “broken” tulips that are striped due to the tulips break virus
Parrot: late-flowering tulips with interesting, distorted petals
Double Late: tall, with rounded, late-blooming flowers
Kaufmanninana: early flowering tulips that open flat
Fosteriana: early flowering tulips with large flowers
Greigii: early flowering tulips with large striped flowers on short stems
Miscellaneous: varieties that don’t fit into the other groups
Plant your tulips in the fall and make sure they get sun or partial shade
Plant your tulips in the fall before the ground freezes. They do best in the sun or partial shade with fertile, neutral pH soil. Bulbs will rot if the soil is too soggy, so make sure the soil drains well. Dig a hole about three times the depth of the size of the bulb. Smaller bulbs can be planted 4” down, but larger ones should be planted 6” to 8” down and 4” to 5” apart. Set the bulb in with the point up. Backfill the hole, pat it down, and water.