fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

Since You Asked: It's a great time to buy ... tulips

I love tulips and this is my favorite time of the year ... such a variety! They're just about as ubiquitous in the springtime as daffodils but I'm wondering where tulips came from and if you have any other trivia about them. Are they native to Holland?

— Troy H., Talent

Of course, Holland is famous for tulips but they don't own the beautiful bulb-grown flower — it owned them for a while. Tulips have had a long and fascinating history, going from being practically worth their weight in gold when first introduced in Europe to being available in bags by the dozen for a few bucks today.

According to an article on the University of Minnesota's James Ford Bell Library Web site, tulips came to the Netherlands from Central Asia in 1593, earlier elsewhere in Europe, primarily among the wealthy. Europeans probably first saw tulips around 1000 AD being cultivated in Turkey, and best information shows they likely are native wildflowers in the Crimea, Black Sea and Caucasus region.

Seems the Dutch were going a bit crazy in the early 1600s, speculating on tulip bulbs. Growers known as bloemisten would issue something like a promissory note for a bulb of the most prized varieties, to be delivered when it was ready. In a practice that became known as tulpenwindhandel (tulip wind trade), buyers would trade the notes, hoping to flip it to the next buyer for more money. The name of the game was to unload the note before the tulip arrived, making a fast guilder. Sound familiar?

By 1637 at the peak of "tulip mania," a farmer had purchased a single Viceroy tulip bulb in trade for "two lasts of wheat, two lasts of rye, four fat oxen, eight fat swine, 12 fat sheep, two hogsheads wine, four tons beer, two tons butter, 1,000 pounds cheese, one bed (complete), one suit clothes, one silver cup."

We suspect in the end, staring at his single tulip bloom the next spring, he thought this a bad deal. That same year (1637), Holland enacted laws to stop the madness, and the market collapsed under its own weight and prices for hybrid varieties reached more earthly levels.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. The volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.