Tulips from Amsterdam

Tulips originally came from the Ottoman Empire, and their name literally means turban. The tulip is indigenous to Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other parts of central Asia. But tulips first gained popularity in Holland in 1593 when Carolus Clusius became the Head Botanist at the University of Leiden. Carolus was previously stationed in Vienna, which was just next door to the Ottoman Empire. Once he moved to Leiden, Carolus wasted no time in planting the first tulip bulbs. The fame of this beautiful bloom spread rapidly and the flower was immediately popular with the upper classes.

Flower power

As the tulip gained ground, competition amongst growers started to produce the most beautiful specimens. Most admired were tulips in vivid colours, which were multicoloured or had lines, stripes and flames on the petals – ironically we now know that these variations come from a tulip-specific virus and are actually imperfections. Just goes to show that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder!

Tulip mania

Tulips became a luxury item and a status symbol. People were willing to pay vast sums of money for a single bulb and the prices rose constantly. Soon tulip mania was gripping the country. The speculation in bulbs increased as people saw this as a quick and easy route to making their fortune. In 1636, stock exchanges were established to trade in bulbs and their future options. Despite attempts by the authorities to limit the craze, trade blossomed and people sold land, houses and valuable objects to invest in tulip bulbs. The biggest sellers were the Semper Augustus and Viceroy bulbs and by 1635, a sale of 100,000 florins for 40 bulbs was recorded. This was ten times the average salary of a skilled labourer!

12,000 hectares of tulip bulbs

Of course this hype had to end sometime and in 1637 the market crashed, leaving most traders with not much more than a bunch of flowers. Today, tulip mania, Tulipomania or tulip madness is a term used to refer to any large economic bubble that cannot last. The Dutch might be cured of this floral mania, but they do still love their tulips. Dutch tulip growers still dominate the world tulip bulb industry: they produce 4.32 billion tulip bulbs each year, 53% of which are grown into cut flowers. 

Amsterdam Tulip Museum & Flower Strip

If you want to get a better feeling about what all the hype was about, then a visit to the Amsterdam Tulip Museum, located in the Jordaan, is a must. The museum details Holland's fascinating horticultural story. For more tulip experiences, why not visit the Keukenhof, located in the Flower Strip (bollenstreek, the bulb-growers region). And to witness the modern version of tulip auctions - and the sale of other flowers from all over the globe - then a visit to the flower auction in Aalsmeer is a fascinating experience.

Tulip celebrations

The Dutch are serious about their love for tulips, and put these special flowers in the spotlight on National Tulip Day. The celebration traditionally takes place in January each year on Amsterdam's Dam Square, inviting tulip-lovers to pick their own bloom for free from a specially constructed ‘picking garden'. And throughout the entire month of April, theTulip Festival allows visitors to marvel at a variety of colourful (and occasionally rare) tulips in the gardens of museums, private homes and institutions throughout the city.