Tulip Mania

Find out more about the bulbs that once created an economic crisis in Europe!


Native to Turkey, tulips were in cultivation long before they traveled West with Ambassador Busbecq in the mid-1550's, and many colors and forms must have been present before German artist Konrad Gesner published his famous illustration in 1559 of a long-stemmed, red-flowered tulip. But this painting was the first glimpse Europeans had ever seen of a tulip, and the reaction was electric.

The painting was made from a tulip variety growing in the Imperial Garden of Vienna. Carolus Clusius was the head of that Garden, a good friend of Busbecq, and a passionate gardener. When he accepted an appointment at Leiden University in Holland, he brought tulips with him.

It is believed that the first tulips flowered in Holland in 1594, in the garden Clusius had planted the year before. An avid tulip breeder, Clusius cultivated an enormous tulip garden and offered his new varieties for sale at outrageous prices. Many local gardeners responded by slipping into Clusius’s gardens and digging up their favorites. By the early 1600s, tulip growing was changing from a gardening passion into a business.

Tulip Mania began in earnest in 1634, fueled by a virus that caused tulip petals to become wildly streaked with bold colors. (Today’s Rembrandt Mix is the closest contemporary tulip to these Dutch classics.) No two flowers looked exactly alike, and everyone wanted them. Florists even developed a special ceramic vase called a tulipiere to hold each stem separately, so that the blooms could be enjoyed individually rather than massed together.

Fortunes were made and lost overnight in tulip speculation. Single bulbs were auctioned for outrageous prices, and ships that sank or cargo that rotted ruined potential investors. Finally the entire enterprise crashed in 1637. Interestingly, this exact phenomenon was repeated in the Turkish market in the early 1700s.

Tulips remain one of the most popular bulbs in the world, with new varieties developed every year. Treat your garden to the plant that rocked Europe and created a sensation in the economic fortunes of thousands! Plant tulips for glorious spring beauty.