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The History of the Tulip
buy beautiful Tulips online now.
Great books for further reading on Tulips:
- Pavord, Anna 1999 "The Tulip" (Bloomsbury). UK.
- Lodewijk,T. 1979 "The Book of Tulips" The Vendome Press (Distributed by Viking Press) USA
Intrigue, thievery and heart break… it's all in the history of the Tulip
The history of the Tulip is filled with intrigue, skulduggery,
thievery, instant fortunes and broken hearts. And, although
these flowers are synonymous with the Dutch, Tulips did not
originate in the Netherlands nor were the Dutch always at
the forefront of breeding these beauties. The Dutch obsession
with Tulips belongs to the relatively recent history of the
If only Tulips could talk, they'd tell many interesting and
twisted tales about their history. Unfortunately they can't
talk which makes tracing their history a "mission impossible"
- although many have tried. The attempts to trace the exact
history of the Tulip have been thwarted by a lack of reliable
documentation over the centuries although art from as early
as the 12th century does give some clues.
What historians have been able to establish is that Tulips
probably originated thousands of years ago in a 'corridor'
which stretches along the 40º latitude between Northern China
and Southern Europe.
The first wave of Tulipomania hits…. in Turkey.
Tulips are remarkable flowers which seem to have the power
to capture hearts (and break them). Although the Dutch Tulipomania
is the most famous, Tulips have experienced other periods
of "power" in other countries. The first mania occurred way
back in 1500's in Turkey - which was the time of the Ottoman
Empire and of Sultan Suleiman I (1494-1566). Tulips became
highly cultivated blooms, developed for the pleasure of the
Sultan and his entourage. During the Turkish reign of Ahmed
III (1703-30) it is believed that the Tulip reigned supreme
as a symbol of wealth and prestige and the period later became
known as 'Age of the Tulips'.
The Turks had strict laws governing the cultivation and sale
of Tulips. For example: during the reign of Sultan Ahmed III,
it was forbidden to buy or sell tulips outside the capital
- a crime punishable by exile (which is a mild punishment
compared to torture). It was often commented that, during
this time, the tulip was more highly valued than a human life.
It was during the early 1700's that the Turks began what
was probably the first of the Tulip Festivals which was held
at night during a full moon. Hundreds of exquisite vases were
filled with the most breath-taking Tulips, crystal lanterns
were used to cast an enchanting light over the gardens whilst
aviaries were filled with canaries and nightingales that sang
for the guests. Romantically, all guests were required to
wear colours which harmonised with the flowers!
>At this time the Dutch were already experimenting with the
development of the Tulip but the Turks were still far ahead
and far more enchanted by the blooms.
Tulips arrive in Europe:
During the second half of the 16th century, news of the extraordinary
flower reached Europe and seeds were then sent to the prefect
(Clusius) of the Royal Medicinal Gardens in Prague. This event
marked the arrival of the Tulip to Europe.
Some years later (1593), Clusius fled to The Netherlands
for religious sanctuary and became the curator of the Leiden
botanical gardens. Although these gardens were planted chiefly
for the supply of herbs and plants for medicinal purposes,
Clusius had brought his huge collection of Tulips (rumoured
to be one of the most impressive in Western Europe at the
time) with him and so planted these also in the gardens.
Historians say that Clusius was a selfish gardener. He was
keeping his beloved Tulips to himself and refused to sell
or share them with anyone - despite many generous offers.
Naturally, with their growing popularity Tulips aroused intense
interest and some Tulip devotees became so desperate that
they eventually resorted to sneaking into the gardens and
stealing some. Apparently this act so disgusted Clusius that
he gave up any dealings with Tulips. He never even grew them
However, now that the Tulips were 'set free' from the botanical
gardens there were plenty of others willing to grow the bulbs.
"Tulipomania" fever races through the Dutch
Tulips were originally a natural curiosity and a hobby for
the extremely rich. The fascination with the tulips, its endless
mutations and mystery, gave it increasing value of immense
on Tulip bulbs began building quickly as the middle and upper
classes sought them as the ultimate symbol of wealth and prosperity.
Along with avaries of exotic birds and large, decorative fountains,
there would always be Tulips in the garden of any self respecting
Emperor, King, Prince, Archbishop or member of the aristocracry.
Often mirrors would be set up in the garden to give the illusion
that the owner had been able to afford to plant many more
tulips than he actually had.
1630 the bulbs were grown and traded only between connoisseurs
and scholars but more commercially minded people soon noticed
the ever increasing prices being paid for certain Tulips and
thought they'd found the perfect "get rich quick" scheme.
And so the popularity of the Tulip increased and more and
more people became caught up in the trade. Groups of speculators
were meeting regularly in the local inns to buy and sell Tulip
bulbs. (The innkeepers of the time really flourished!)
It wasn't long before the majority of the Dutch community
became obsessed with these flowers. Those who could not afford
the bulbs settled instead for art, furniture, embroideries
and ceramics which featured the flowers.
Many of the gorgeous Tulip water colours painted during this
period are now considered works of art but were, at the time,
painted for catalogues with which to tempt buyers into ever
more extravagant purchases. It was only ever the most expensive
Tulips (ie those with 'broken' colour) which were painted.
Since bulbs were sold by weight, most people were speculating
on the future weight of the bulb once it was dug. All investors
had to do was plant some bulbs and sit back on the reasonable
assumption that the bulbs would grow whilst in the ground.
It was like making money out of thin air and hence this speculating
also became known as "the wind trade".
From the period of 1634 to 1637 bulb prices sky rocketed
as 'Tulip fever' spread like wild fire amongst the normally
solid and sensible Dutch. Bulbs of one or two Guilders could
be worth a hundred Guilders just a few months later and bulbs
would change ownership several times before they even bloomed
for the first time.
The period of absurd speculation became known as "Tulipomania"
(officially 1636 - 1637) and the phenomenon was so intense
that it still puzzles historians and economists until this
day. Such was the absurdity of the period that, at the peak
of Tulipomania, a single bulb could be sold for a price which
could have purchased a house in the best parts of Amsterdam!
(The equivalent of 15 year's wages for the average bricklayer).
During "Tulipomania" there were many who tried to stop or
slow down the absurd speculation. Pastors and moralists warned
their followers against such an obsession with worldly goods
whilst the government also tried passing laws to stop the
The Bubble bursts - along with many fortunes.
The inevitable 'crash' of Tulip prices happened in 1637 when
a group of sellers could not get the prices they wanted and
people everywhere suddenly came to their senses. Everyone
saw that the current Tulip prices were 'artificial' and their
value as elusive as the wind!
Many people lost everything they owned and for them it was
a tragic ending and many many people of the day never liked
the flower again. However, for many others Tulipomania had
done little to lessen the flower's beauty and grace and some
of the rare varieties could still command huge prices. By
the 1640's (when Tulipomania was considered to have passed)
Semper Augustus, for example, could still fetch a price of
1,200 guilders (ie approximately 3 times the annual average
wage) which would be, in Australian terms - approximately
Tulips until today.
During the 17th and 18th century, the Tulip still reigned
supreme elsewhere in Europe but the dramatic close of the
18th century and start of the 19th century (the French Revolution,
Napoleon's invasion and the occupation of The Netherlands)
brought a more sober approach to life and the Tulip.
Over the following decades, interest in the Tulip rose and
fell but the Dutch maintained a commercial devotion to these
flowers (today they export 1.2 billion bulbs annually). This
is why the Tulip is now synonymous with the Dutch.
It is the Dutch migrants, settling in new homes scattered
around the world, who are largely responsible for further
spreading the popularity of the Tulip today. Not surprisingly,
this is also how Tulips arrived in Silvan in the gorgeous
Dandenong Ranges of Victoria, Australia.
The Dutch arrive in Silvan - along with their Tulip bulb.
In 1939 Cees and Johanna Tesselaar arrived in the Dandenong
Ranges from Holland. They had left on their wedding day and
brought with them little else except a willingness to work
hard and a love of Tulips (see the About
Tesselaar page for more information). Over the next few
years they settled into the area and began growing Tulips.
News of their "little piece of Holland" spread and so many
of the 'Dutchies' who arrived during the 1950s flood of immigrants
headed straight for the Tesselaar farm where they found a
place to stay and a steady job.
Many of these people stayed in the area and began their own farms
so that today the area is dominated by the "Dutchies" and their
beloved Tulips. (It is also the home of the annual Tesselaar
Thanks to the many stories like these being mirrored around
all around the globe, the popularity of the Tulip remains
strong almost world wide. Thankfully today there is also a
ready international supply of the bulbs to ensure that these
graceful and elegant blooms are readily affordable for most