COMMON NAME: tulip
SPECIES, HYBRIDS, CULTIVARS:
The most commonly used hybrid tulips are Darwin, Darwin hybrid, cottage, breeder, multi-flowered, and lily flowered. Popular species tulips include T. kaufmanniana, T. fosteriana, T. praeslaus, T. greigil, T. kolpakowskiana, and T. pulchella.
BLOOMS: late spring
DESCRIPTION: Though there is tremendous variation in color and color patterns, the basic flower form of the tulip, that of six petals and broad green leaves, remains the same.
CULTIVATION: Full sun or partial shade and rich, well-aerated soil, amended with organic matter or leaf mold, provide good growing conditions for tulips. The bulbs should be planted 2 to 4 inches deep in autumn. They like the very cold weather. In mild climates, flowering will not be good year after year, and tulips are often treated as an annual bulb.
Tulips are probably one of the first flowers cultivated solely for their beauty. Tulip designs are found on pottery jars dated from 2200 to 1600 B.C., and tulips were found on the border of a ninth-century Byzantine fabric. Though they must have been known to them, tulips were not mentioned at all by Greek or Roman writers.
European explorers and traders found tulips growing in the gardens of Turkish sultans in the early 1500’s. They were of such beauty that in 1554 the Austrian ambassador, Ghislain de Busbecq, acquired some of the bulbs at a great price and took them back to Vienna. He gave them to Flemish botanist Charles de Lecluse and inadvertently planted the seed of tulipmania in Holland.
After a period of about twenty years, de Lecluse took a teaching post in the Netherlands and took some of the seeds and bulbs of tulips there. Although he had intended to sell them to plump up his slim pocketbook, the tulip bulbs were stolen, and soon tulips were growing throughout the country.
By 1634 tulipmania had hit Holland. Enthusiasm over the bulbs reached fever pitch, and their price per pound was often more than that of precious metal. When interest in the solid-colored flowers began to wane somewhat, breeders began producing unusual blossoms, because striped, feathered, and marbled varieties brought higher prices. Stripes and some other coloration are actually caused by a virus and not a mutation, making it impossible to get the same coloration from seed. These must be bred from an offshoot of the parent bulb.
One bulb of the variety ‘Semper Augustus’ is said to have sold for a record price of 5,500 florins, today’s equivalent of over $2,500.
Many Dutch citizens were extremely wealthy during this time and had large and lavish gardens at their summer estates. Tulips became a status symbol, as each family tried to outdo the next in the number and variety of tulips growing in their gardens.
In 1637 traders and dealers began to realize that bulb prices were artificially high and did not reflect the actual value of the bulbs. As the tulip market toppled, the result was economic depression and true hunger and poverty in many areas. Especially hard hit were the many farmers who, hoping for a quick fortune, had begun to grow tulips instead of food.
Learning from mistakes made by the Dutch, the Turkish government passed strict laws during the “Age of Tulips” in Turkey between 1703 and 1730. Bulbs could be bought and sold only in the capital city, and punishment for breaking this law was an exile.
The government also kept careful records, and at one time these records indicated that the Turks had over 1,5550 varieties of tulips.
One story is told of an English trader who received a shipment of cloth from Turkey. Along with the cloth was what he thought were onions. He ate some of them and enjoyed them so much he asked his gardener to plant them in the vegetable garden. Imagine his surprise when he found the glorious tulip blossoms growing among the vegetables the next spring.
Tulip bulbs are quite edible and some even call then tasty. They can be substituted in any recipe for onions. One recipe for tulip-tomato sauce calls for sauteing two minced tulip bulbs with parsley and garlic, then adding four cups of chopped tomatoes and simmering for one hour. The stamens and ovaries, sauteed in butter, are supposedly quite good, tasting something like asparagus.
Tulips were first brought to America by the Dutch colonists who settled in the northeastern part of the country. The popularity of these flowers in those communities is obvious from the prevalence of the tulip in Pennsylvania Dutch designs from that period.
The name tulip is derived from the name for the Turkish hat, turban. When traders and visitors came to Turkey to see the famous gardens, the gardeners kept pointing out that tulip blossoms resemble upside-down turbans, or Tuli bands, as the Turkish called them. Soon visitors began to refer to these flowers as Tuli bands, and this was eventually changed to tulip.
A Persian legend tells of the origin of tulips. A young man, Farhad, was in love with a beautiful woman, Sharin. One day Farhad received news that his lover was dead. In his grief, he jumped off a high cliff, and where his body landed, there the tulips began to grow. The saddest part was that the message was sent by a jealous rival, and Sharin was actually still alive.
Tulips are indigenous to the northern temperate zones from the Mediterranean coast east to Japan. T. sharonensis, or the Sharon tulip, is thought to be the “rose of Sharon” mentioned in the Song of Solomon in the Bible. The Sharon tulip grows on the Plain of Sharon, found between Carmel and Jaffa.
Tulips are considered the symbol of perfect love, and the Turks used them as a love potion. If a tulip was given to a girl, the color of the petals determined the meaning of the flower. Red petals meant a declaration of love. Yellow petals meant hopeless love, and variegated petals meant beautiful eyes. A black center meant a heart burned with love.