History of Tulips

Tulips, originally a Central Asian wild flower, were first cultivated by the Turks as early as 1000 AD for the pleasure of the sultan. Tulips were worn in the Turk’s turbans, and the name tulip was derived from the ancient Persian word for turban. The “Age of the Tulips” began in the early 18th century where it became a crime, punishable by exile, to buy or sell tulips outside the Turkish capital.

Tulips were introduced into Western Europe and the Netherlands in the late 16th century, brought to Holland via Great Britain around 1578. In the beginning of the 17th century tulips were beginning to be used as a garden decoration, having previously been used for medicinal purposes. The tulip soon began its popularity as a trading product, especially in Holland, as interest in the flower was huge and the bulbs garnered incredibly high prices.

Botanists began to hybridize the flower as the rarity of hybrids and mutations became a sign of higher status. The oldest known book on tulips lists an amazing 1588 cultivated tulips. However, in the 20th century it was discovered the frilly petals and dramatic flames of some tulips, such as the Rembrandt Tulip, were symptoms of the Mosaic Virus. This virus was passed plant to plant by aphids. Healthy flowers were supposed to be solid, smooth and monotone. Current hybrids with frilly petals and dramatic flames are genetically stable hybrids and no longer diseased.

“Tulipomania” occurred in the Netherlands in late 1636 to early 1637, with tulips costing more than a merchant home on the canals of Amsterdam. While this market crashed in 1637, interest in the tulip remained throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, with the Dutch becoming the true connoisseurs.