Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – The Gardening Column with Paul Andruss – Tulipmania

Paul Andruss wanted to make sure that tulips in all their glory, received a showcase and so has written an extra column this month to do just that.

Tulipmania by Paul Andruss


Everyone knows tulips so there is not much to say about them. However would a little bit of their history make you appreciate them a bit more?

Tulips are native to the southern steppes bordering the Black and Caspian Seas from South Russia to Northern Iran and Afghanistan, then east to Turkmenistan and the Hindu Kush until their habitat of blistering dry summers and deeply cold winters is disrupted by Himalayan Plateau and the desert beyond. These steppes were the home of the Turkic nomads, who were not the same, but very similar to the horsemen of Mongolia. One such tribe were the Seljuk Turks.

A thousand years ago the Seljuks migrated into the inhospitable Anatolian high plateau now modern Turkey. The Byzantine Emperor welcomed them. He used the warlike tribe as allies to provide a buffer against the Persian Empire to the east, Rome’s traditional enemy. He was quite happy to let the Seljuks settle on the almost deserted plateau because it was deemed so inhospitable, due to its extremes of blistering cold winters and baking hot summers. The Seljuks, being from the equally harsh Steppes, found it a home from home and thrived.

The plateau became their Sultanate of Rum (Greek for Roman). Due to political upheavals the Seljuk rulers were ousted by the Ottoman Turks who conquered the Persia Empire, their Muslim neighbours, and in 1450 the biggest prize of all, the city of Constantinople. By this time Constantinople was also called Istanpolis, simply meaning The City – for there was no other like her. The name later became Istanbul. The Ottoman Empire lasted from 1300 to the end of World War 1 (1918) when Turkey became a secular Republic under Attaturk.

Tulips were first cultivated in Persia. Paradise is the Persian word for garden. The Seljuks introduced tulips to Turkey from newly conquered Persia. Islamic historians say in the 1570s the sultan ordered 350,000 bulbs imported from the provinces to beautify his palace gardens in Istanbul. In the 1600s the tulip became an iconic design on Iznik Ceramic Tiles decorating the new imperial pleasure palace called the Top-Kapi (Ball-Gate) after its ornate circular-arched doorways.

Tulip Design on Iznik tile (Yurdan)

It is claimed the Holy Roman Emperor’s ambassador first brought tulips to Europe in the 1550s but other sources claim seeing them all over Europe shortly after this period so they were probably introduced before. In 1590 the first book on tulips was produced in the Netherlands by a botanist who had introduced them from Vienna, the closest city to the Ottoman border. Tulips quickly became highly desirable luxury items.

A tulip, known as “the Viceroy” (viseroij), displayed in the 1637 Dutch catalog Verzameling van een Meenigte Tulipaanen. Its bulb was offered for sale between 3,000 and 4,200 guilders (florins) depending on size. A skilled crafts-worker at the time earned about 300 guilders a year. (Wikipedia)

Tulips were split into groups: those of single colours (red, yellow, or white) and multicolours with white streaks on a red or pink purple or lilac flower. The most coveted and expensive were ‘Bizarres’ with yellow or white streaks on a red, brown or purple background.

(Dutch Bulbs)

Tulips grown from seed take between 7 and 12 years to flower. Until they do (due to genetic variation) you don’t know what you are getting. After a tulip flowers the main bulb dies, leaving a rosette of bulblets, clones of the original parent plant, which then take years to mature.

It was noted tulips grown from seed did not always produce these highly desirable streaks, but those cultivated from the bulblets of those with streaks did. The problem was these bulblets often died before they matured.

In those days gardeners knew nothing about viruses. Today we know the tulip mosaic virus causes the streaks… and a virus is not a good thing to be running rampant through your very expensive tulip collection.

Because of the long years waiting for seeds develop or bulblets to mature, there was a speculative frenzy in the 1600s called Tulip Mania. People bought immature bulbs knowing it they developed a spectacular flower they could sell the side bulblets for extraordinary prices as breeding stock to nurserymen.

We have the same thing today. In the modern financial world it is called ‘futures’… For example you buy next year’s wheat harvest at a reduced price hoping by the time next year’s harvest comes the price will have gone up and you will make a profit. However what you have bought currently does not exist, so if the harvest fails…

People bought the tiny new bulblets of marvellously streaked tulips, knowing as each year passed, and they got more mature, they could sell them on profitably. But if the bulb died or was not infected by the virus then the gamble failed.

Semper Augustus Tulip (Wikipedia)

In 1630 one Semper Augustus Tulip bulb sold for the modern equivalent of €28,750, or £25,500 or $34,500. A sale of 40 bulbs came in at €1,150,000, £1,022,000 or $1,200,000.
In 1637 when dealers did not show up at a bulb auction the madness was over. The bubble burst and tulips lost around 99.99% of their value. Investors were ruined.

Today breeding streaked tulips remains the holy grail of growers. It has been painstaking achieved by managing selection and cross breeding from the seeds of non-infected bulbs.
Parks and gardens dig up tulip bulbs after flowering and throw them away, because they don’t flower as well in following years. But I confess until writing this article I have never knew why. It is because, as I said, the main bulb dies and you have to wait for the new bulblets to mature.

Gardeners say dig up your tulip bulbs after they flower and dry them out. Last year I neither threw them away of dug them up, but left them in pots over summer under cover in the dry. So far the results have been a mixed bag. The tulips have survived but some have not flowered, these are obviously the immature ones. Oh well, there is always next year!

©Paul Andruss 2018

About Paul Andruss

Paul Andruss is a writer whose primary focus is to take a subject, research every element thoroughly and then bring the pieces back together in a unique and thought provoking way. His desire to understand the origins of man, history, religion, politics and the minds of legends who rocked the world is inspiring. He does not hesitate to question, refute or make you rethink your own belief system and his work is always interesting and entertaining. Whilst is reluctant to talk about his own achievements he offers a warm and generous support and friendship to those he comes into contact with.

Paul is the author of two books and you can find out more by clicking the image.

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Thank you for dropping in today and as always please leave your questions and comments for Paul… thanks Sally.


38 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – The Gardening Column with Paul Andruss – Tulipmania

  1. Oh wow, I do love those ‘bizarre’ tulips. I remember planting many bulbs one fall in one of my homes, hoping I’d get a few to bloom with the amount of scavengers lurking around my gardens, lol. Another fabulously informative and also entertaining post Paul. ❤ xx

    Liked by 3 people

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  4. Lovely to read the history of tulips… the bulb fields of Holland are indeed a sight to behold. There have been various stories over the ears of tulip rarities…I love the streaked varieties so elegant, exotic and beautiful….A lovely post 🙂 x

    Liked by 2 people

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