When we think of tulips, we think of springtime...windmills...and of course, Holland. But did you know that tulips didn't make it to Holland until the 16th century? We thought we knew a lot about tulips, but reading about their fascinating journey from the Ottoman Empire to our vases today adds even more substance to these amazing and versatile flowers.

Photo of three stems of purple tulips with green leaves

Tulip Origins

Originally cultivated in the in Asia in the tenth century, tulips didn't come to the attention of the Dutch until bulbs were first imported from the Ottoman Empire (present-day Turkey) in the 1500's. As the Dutch became superpowers of trade, science, military and art, the humble tulip gained recognition through their mention in a popular book written in 1592, and tulips soon became a staple in Dutch paintings and festivals.

Tulips became so entrenched in the culture of the world's most wealthy, that the most abundant parts of Ottoman history are referred to as the "Tulip Period" and tulips remain the favourite flower of modern day Turkey.

Holland's "Tulip Mania"

In the mid 1600's, the tulips became so valuable and expensive that they were being used as currency, causing history's first economic bubble. During Holland's "Tulip Mania," the price of tulip bulbs and tulip futures skyrocketed; single fashionable bulb could sell for as much as 10 times the annual salary of a skilled craftworker. An infection called tulip breaking virus, which created variegated patterns in the flowers, brought even more inflation, as these unusual colours and patterns were highly valued as a sign of wealth and luck. This economic surge lasted until the tulip market crashed and people were forced to return to using conventional currencies.

Arrival in North America

Tulips arrived in the United States at the Fay Estate, Massachusetts in 1847. One of the wealthiest men in town, a lawyer, settled on 500 acres and tulips were just one of the many plants and flowers that he imported from every corner of the world.

Today, the image of vibrant tulip fields is synonymous with Holland. Tulip festivals still take place across the world, including here in Canada. On a smaller scale, tulips add affordable opulence to everyday life and are florist favourite here in Canada.


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