The little tulip story

The origin of the tulip is in Asia, in the mountains of Kazakhstan. The first tulip finally arrived in the Netherlands around 1593 via Persia, China, Turkey and Antwerp. Tulips are also naturally present in North Africa and Southern Europe. Flower bulbs need cold nights and a cold winter to grow and in these regions the climate there is optimal growth for tulip growth. Eventually the flower reached the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey). There, the tulip takes the name we know now: it is derived from the local name of a turban, tulipa in Latin. Around 1550, the wealthy Sultan Süleyman of the Ottoman Empire had palace gardens that were full of the finest tulips, as tulips were held in high esteem. The sultan was therefore very careful with his flowers.

Bulbs as a gift

The sultan sometimes gave a few tulip bulbs as gifts to important guests, such as the Flemish diplomatic envoy to Turkey, Ogier Gisleen van Busbeke. In turn, he gave some to the Flemish Carolus Clusius (1526-1609), who ran the herb garden of the Austrian emperor. Tulips took pride of place in the emperor’s garden. Clusius later left for Holland, where the Dutch tulip story began. He became a professor at the University of Leiden and at the same time responsible for the university’s herb garden. Of course, he took the tulips with him. He did all kinds of tests with him and wrote a real book about it in 1592. No matter how beautiful and how rare they were, he didn’t sell them. One night, thieves stole tulips from the garden. It was the start of the tulip and bulb trade in the Netherlands.

Tulip Mania

In the Dutch golden age, prices for newly introduced tulip bulbs reached extreme highs. Soon, a bulb was worth more than an average annual salary and you did not receive it by hand: you received a piece of paper indicating that you were the proud owner of a tulip bulb.

At its peak, the bulb was worth more than a “canal house” on the canals of Amsterdam! Initially, the bulbs themselves were exchanged, then they exchanged future non-existent bulbs. The actual price of growing a bulb to an adult plant was of course much lower than the imaginary value given to that plant. This big economic bubble got the term “tulip mania”. The tulip madness lasted from 1634 to 1637, when the government ended it. Some vendors had become very wealthy over the past few years. Others were less fortunate and lost all of their possessions.

Tulips also play an important role in the paintings of the great Dutch masters. During the 17th century, special vases were even designed for the tulip. Usually it was a round model with a number of spouts (openings) on top, but sometimes the vases had a more extravagant shape. A tulip could be inserted into each nozzle. The thick bouquet of tulips today was not the case at the time. The tulip was very expensive and was purchased individually or by piece.


Books have played an important role in the tulip mania and in particular a book.

Bulbous and tuberous cultures were in fashion and the editors published numerous books on this subject with images faithful to nature. One of the best known is the Hortus Floridus in Latin, French, English and entitled De Blom-hof in the Dutch edition. The Hortus Floridus must be placed in this context of real enthusiasm in the field of floral and plant cultures. In general, the book is labeled as a masterpiece. Hortus Floridus editor-in-chief Crispijn van de Passe jr. (1589-1670), came from a line of renowned artists and engravers. Van de Passe spent part of his life in Utrecht. He himself draws and engraves most of the copper engravings; In addition, his father Crispijn Sr. (circa 1565-1637) and his brothers Simon (1595-1647) and Willem (1598-circa 1637) made an important contribution.

Tulips in the Netherlands

If you want to see the tulip fields, spring is the best time to travel to Holland. The Noordoostpolder is the area with the most tulips and the tulip festival runs from late April to early May. There are flower markets and gardens everywhere. Nowadays, flower bulbs are no longer expensive and special. They are on sale everywhere and you see them in many gardens. So much has changed from the 17th century, but the tulip is still number one. Almost half of all bulb fields are filled with tulips. The Netherlands is therefore one of the main export countries for tulips and tulip bulbs. The world’s largest flower auction is located in Aalsmeer, near Amsterdam. It is truly a spectacle. If you want to stroll through the gardens, the Keukenhof, the largest flower garden in the world, is a good choice. It’s south of Haarlem and you probably recognize the location, because if you’ve ever seen a picture of a tulip field, it’s probably taken in the Keukenhof. Festivals are often part of organized trips and group trips.

Tulips in France

And yes, tulips are also grown in France.

France also has wild tulips such as Tulipa planifolia, Saracen Tulip or Tulip with aircraft leaves. “With the exception of Tulipa sylvestris which exists almost in all regions of France, our tulips live mainly in the south of the country. In these regions, it is possible to meet in particular, the delicate tulip radish (Tulipa clusiana), the early robust tulip (Tulipa raddii), the Agen tulip (Tulipa agenensis) and finally, the corn it is much less widespread, the Tulip the Lortet (Tulipa lortetii).

Those which specialists group under the name of neo-tulips, because their appearance on French soil seems to coincide with the saffron cultures developed during the 17th century, live exclusively in Savoy and in the Hautes-Alpes. These are Tulipa aximensis, Tulipa billietiana, Tulipa didieri, Tulipa marjolettii, Tulipa mauriana, Tulipa montisandrei, Tulipa planifolia (Syn: Tulipa sarracenica), Tulipa platystigma, and the recently described Tulipa rubidusa. Fortunately, some of our French tulips were introduced into culture at the start of the 20th century. Thanks to this, it is perfectly possible today to obtain a few bulbs in order to install them in the garden, and thereby effectively contribute to their preservation, legally. I think for example of the bright and so fragrant Tulipa sylvestris, the red Tulipa didieri or the two-color Tulipa marjolettii. All these tulips are also perfectly adapted to our climate, which means that they are cultivated without great difficulty. In fact, they are the ideal plants for the natural garden. “(Source: site)

Written by Jouseph Vanderkimpen