The Tulip is a lily which grows from a bulb like an onion. Most of the original species are native to Turkey but other species have been found in India, Persia and Japan. From ancient times the Turks held what amounted to the world's earliest flower festivals to celebrate the blooming of the tulip in the spring.
The name "Tulip" in Turkish means "turbin" which the tulip resembles in colour and form. The Turks so loved the Tulip that they took bulbs with them as they invaded southern Europe.
Then when the Crusaders invaded the Turks they also fell in love with the bulbs and introduced them north into England and Scandinavia. They were first described there as the "most ravishing beauties of the vegetable world", thinking that they would make a great substitute for onions!
It didn't take too many years for the Europeans to work out that these were not very tasty. But they also discovered that tulips sometimes "break" to create a new , often exotic flower.
"Breaking" is a viral condition that causes the petal pigments to alter from solid colours to a beautiful feathery or flaming pattern over a lighter colour i.e. red feathering over a yellow petal. The Europeans were amazed! No other flower did this! Nothing was known about hybridization in those days.
New flowers were all the rage but had to come from new varieties discovered through exploration. A new plant species was valuable. There was money to be made with this new tulip vegetable and this lead to the madness known as Tulipomania. By the mid 1600's a Tulip variety that was know to frequently break was worth gambling over.
They frequently sold for $1000 for a single bulb in the trading market. Fortunes and entire estates were won and lost over the tulip. One poor farmer ate a $20,000 meal when his wife mistakenly added his prize Tulips instead of onions to his stew!
One scarlet and white striped Tulip sold for: 36 bags of corn; 72 bags of rice; 4 fat bullocks; 12 sheep; 8 pigs; 2 turns of wine; 4 turns of beer;2 turns of salted butter; 2 pounds of cheese and a silver cup!!
Tulipomania spread as far as Turkey by the 1700's where the King finally had to punish tulip traders with banishment from Istanbul to stop them from destroying the entire economy!
As a reminder of those feverish times we still have the brightly coloured Breeder Tulips with petals streaked with flames or brightly contrasting edges.
The work of Mendel, Darwin and their students in genetics and hybridization resulted in the tall, stately hybrid tulips that bear their names.
The Darwin Tulips are easily grown and of greatest elegance. The large flowers and bright, solid colours of Cottage Tulips are modern day hybrid relics of ancient wild species as are the small Rock Tulips.
Parrot Tulips, Lily Flowering types, black Queen of the Night and the doubles are all more modern additions easily grown in any well-draining, (partly) sunny spot. Prolonged winter cold helps flowering for a memorable spring show that will warm your heart!
When potting Tulips or planting them in decorative beds, remember that the flat side of each Tulip bulb shows where the first major leaf will emerge and then fold out in a graceful downward curve. Thus always place the bulbs with the flat side facing outward in pots or facing toward the front of the bed when planting in the garden.
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