The Netherlands: On the Origin of Tulips

by Piotr Buraczewski May. 29, 2021 615 views

The Kingdom of the Netherlands: you cannot help falling in love with its charming towns and villages, dramatic skies and waterways, exquisite art and the people: entrepreneurs, explorers, artists, philosophers, proud of their past and present. There are many reasons to visit or live in the Netherlands. One of them is the most amazing springtime spectacle: fields of blooming tulips. Get dazzled and enjoy!

Tulips are by no means native to the Netherlands. Originally, they come from Central Asia and were cultivated in Persia and Constantinople already nine hundred years ago. Tulips caught the attention of European diplomats to the Ottoman court in the 16th century. They were distributed from present-day Turkey to Vienna and on to Amsterdam and Antwerpen.

At the end of the 16th century, Carolus Clusius planted tulips in the gardens of University of Leiden. They tolerated harsh conditions of the Low Countries and soon grew in popularity because of their saturated colours. Growers started cultivating new varieties of single-hued and multicolour flowers. Accidental mosaic virus infection gave tulips beautiful lines and streaks on the petals.

It was the golden age of the Netherlands. Ships of Dutch East India Company and Dutch West India Company sailed the oceans, merchants made amazing fortunes. The country had the highest per capita income in the world, the most advanced economic and financial systems, world's first stock market. No wonder that novel, exotic and bold coloured tulips became a status symbol.

Tulips with their profusion of form and colour were luxury goods. The bulbs infected with mosaic virus that yielded bizarre looking flower petals were most sought for and their prices skyrocketed. Tulip traders would sign futures contracts to buy bulbs with no short selling allowed. By the 1630s, "tulip mania" was in full swing and a single bulb of Semper Augustus, the most expensive tulip variety ever, would fetch the price as high as twelve acres (five hectares) of land.

After gin, herrings and cheese, tulips were the fourth largest Dutch export product. The futures contracts changed hands a couple of times per day. It was "wind trade" and so it all collapsed in 1637 with fortunes lost overnight. The end of "tulip mania" is considered to be the first speculative bubble in the world.

Gone are the days one could buy a canal house in Amsterdam for a handful of tulip bulbs. However, the Dutch remain experts in the cultivation of flowers. The value of plants and flowers exported from the Netherlands to Germany alone reached about three billion dollars in 2019. Export value to Great Britain and France totalled two billion USD. Funny enough, on one of my trips to the islands off the coast of East Africa, I found highly prized orchids on sale in an airport shopping mall. Advertised as Indian Ocean specific one-of-a-kind souvenir, they all came from Dutch greenhouses (always read small print 😉).

One can admire endless varieties of tulips, hyacinths or daffodils blooming in the fields or in Keukenhof ("the kitchen garden"), one of the largest gardens in the world. Approximately seven million bulbs are planted annually there. Keukenhof is situated close to Amsterdam and a visit there can be organised as part of a stopover at Schiphol Airport.

Collage of press photographs

Collage of press photographs

Sometimes the Dutch name a tulip variety after a prominent person. The one above is Maria Kaczyńska tulip, honouring a women's rights activist and wife of Lech Kaczyński, the late President of Poland. In 2010 she died in a plane crash in Russia together with her husband and 95 other Polish government and church officials.

I spent six years in the Netherlands. If not for my wanderlust, I would enjoy living there until today. However, as Amelia Earhart said: "Adventure is worthwhile in itself"... and so I took off for Argentina and then Nigeria.

Here is the map of little big Netherlands in a wider context:

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There are 21 comments , add yours!
Steveandjustyna Nomads 3 months, 1 week ago

The historical and economical aspects of tulip cultivation are truly fascinating! I had no idea about that!!! Thanks for teaching us something new with your post (again)!!grinning

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Steveandjustyna Nomads 3 months, 1 week ago

Hi Justyna, Hi Steve, Knowing the Dutch as a god fearing and very pragmatic nation, I find tulip mania story quite unusual if not amusing. 😀

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Olga Helys 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Great captures of flowers
The #2,3,5 are my fav!

3 months, 2 weeks ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Olga Helys 3 months, 1 week ago

Thank you very much, Olga.

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Amy Caldwell 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Beautiful shots--one of my favorite flowers!

3 months, 2 weeks ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Amy Caldwell 3 months, 1 week ago

Thank you, Amy. I like tulips very much, too.

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Goshaa 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Piękne! Serdecznie pozdrawiam!

3 months, 2 weeks ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Goshaa 3 months, 1 week ago

Serdecznie dziękuję i wzajemnie. Piękne fotografie znad Bałtyku. Mam nadzieję, że wrócę tam w przyszłym roku, z rowerem.

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Goshaa Replied to Piotr Buraczewski 3 months, 1 week ago

Będziemy czekać :) Też jeżdżę na rowerze.

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Southbaytimes 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Terrific  article and beautiful captures!

3 months, 2 weeks ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Southbaytimes 3 months, 1 week ago

Thank you very much!

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Chuck Staruch 3 months, 3 weeks ago

A great series! #5 is my favorite! Nice job!!
Did you have to tip toe thru the tulips?smile

3 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Chuck Staruch 3 months, 1 week ago

Hi Chuck, Thank you very much. Well, tulips bloom in their billions, so it will not be the end of the world if you step on one or two. 😀

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
John Durham 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Beautiful - love tulips, even though (or because) they they flower for such a brief time. Here in the Mid-South, blooms last maybe two weeks.

3 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to John Durham 3 months, 1 week ago

Hi John, Thank you very much. Spring was unusually cold here in the north of Europe, so tulips and other flowers bloomed rather shy an for a good couple of weeks this year.

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Camellia Staab 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Another one of your beauties, both in writing and in photos. While I love the colors and shape of Tulips my favorite of all the ones you have named are Hyacinths. I absolutely love their perfume and every year when they show their faces at the stores (because as you probably already know I have a black thumb and can't grow anything) I buy a couple of pots, just to set on the table and smell as I walk by.

3 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Camellia Staab 3 months, 1 week ago

Hi Camellia, Thanks a lot. Tulips are cheerful, plentiful and not (any more) expensive. Oh yes, hyacinths and their hypnotic fragrance... sometimes you can come across a small field of them here as well.

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Travotic Holidays 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Great artical

3 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Travotic Holidays 3 months, 1 week ago

Thank you.

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Benny Law 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Fantastic post on tulips (one my of favourite flowers). Very informative with some outstanding captures! The woman in #9 appears to be filming you with a video recorder.

3 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Piotr Buraczewski Replied to Benny Law 3 months, 1 week ago

Hi Benny, Thanks for your kind words. Oh yes, the last picture is from Keukenhof. Everyone walk there to admire flowers, watch the people, take pictures and film, like on a safari in Kenya.

3 months, 1 week ago Edited