For some reason, it just doesn’t seem like Spring until I see the tulips coming up in my garden. Even though the daffodils are ready to bloom, and the crocus have been blooming for a couple weeks, the tulip is the flower that makes me believe Winter is over. In reality, tulips can come up and bloom while the snow is still on the ground, but to me they still mean Spring is here.

Though most people associate the Netherlands with tulips, they originated in Asia, Africa and Southeast Europe, and were cultivated in Turkey as early as 1000 AD. Around 1554, a botanist named Carolus Clusius, who was the head of the Vienna Imperial Gardens, received some tulip bulbs and seeds from an ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. He planted them, but treated them as a collection of art, rather than a product to be bought and sold. Clusius was later put in charge of a garden at the University of Leiden, in the Netherlands. He brought along his tulip collection and planted them, which attracted quite a bit of attention. People were fascinated by the tulips, but Clusius would not sell to anybody who intended to make a profit. This resulted in a large number of his collection being stolen and replanted. He is now regarded as the father of the Dutch tulip industry.

Over the following  years, tulips became a status symbol, the flower to have in your garden. By 1634, demand for tulips became so great that people were trading plots of land, buildings or several years worth of pay, for a single bulb. They were selling their property and investing in tulips, hoping to cash in. Tulip bulbs became too valuable to plant in the ground. This all came to a stop in 1637, when the market crashed, and prices plummeted, and many lost their fortunes.

Today, the Netherlands grows several billion tulip bulbs every year. Two thirds of these are exported to other countries, including the United States. Here, they are grown as perennials in zones 3-8, and bloom anytime from late winter to early summer. In warmer zones, they can be grown as spring flowering annuals. The original tulips grew on mountain sides in Turkey, very cold part of the year, and very hot the rest of the time. Modern tulips are similar in that they require a period of cold dormancy to bloom properly.

Tulips belong to the genus tulipa, in the family Liliaceae, which includes over 100 species. There are thousands of different varieties, ranging from 4 inches to 27 inches tall. The flowers come in many different forms, but almost everybody will recognize the original, single flowered tulip. It has cup shaped flowers, with what looks like 6 petals. Technically, 3 are sepals and 3 are petals, but they are almost identical, so all 6 are referred to as tepals.

I have always had tulips of one type or another in my yard, but they all seem to die after several years. As I was researching them, I learned that many people lift the bulbs when the foliage dies, store them in a cool place, and replant them in the fall. This cuts down on disease, prevents them from rotting if there is too much moisture and protects them from rodents.  As I’ve never lifted my tulip bulbs, this makes me wonder if I could have prolonged their lives by digging them up for the summer. Anybody have any thoughts on this?


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2 Responses to “Tulip”

  1. Kem Says:

    Tulip designs are used on tiles in Turkey, and in some of the mosques there. The blue mosque in Istanbul has tiles with tulips on the on some of the inside walls. It’s the most beautiful building I have ever been in (the wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sultan_Ahmed_Mosque). But Turkey seemed fairly dry climate-wise, so it kind of surprises me that tulips are from there.

    And yes, digging up the bulbs prolongs their life. But no, I have never gotten around to doing it! 🙂

  2. Gardener Says:

    Excellent work on this garden article. It makes for an interesting and easy read.

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