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The Tulip

  We are told that in Persia the tulip, whose blossom in its native country
is scarlet, while the centre of its glowing cup is black, is used to express
warm affection; and, when sent by a lover, will convey to the object
of his attachment the idea that like this flower, his face is warm
and his heart is consumed as a coal.
~ Anne Pratt, The Field, the Garden and the Woodland, 1838


Tulips in a Vase by Renoir  The word tulip is thought to be a corruption of the Turkish word for turbans. In the East, the tulips cultivation was started over a  thousand years ago. It grew wild in Persia and near Kabul the Great  Mogul Baber counted thirty -three different species. According to  Persian legend, the first tulips sprang up from the drops of blood shed by a lover and for a long time the tulip was the symbol of avowed love. Poets sang its praises and artists drew and painted it so often that when imported to Europe it was considered to be the symbol of the Ottoman Empire. The Ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire sent tulip seeds and bulbs to Clusius in Vienna. He was not sure what to do with them so he planted them all in a heap and when they matured , he gave a hundred bulbs to his grocer who also not knowing quite what to do with them fried them and ate them with oil and vinegar. There are people in the world who still eat tulip bulbs of certain varieties. In some parts of Japan a flour is made of them. In times of famine the Dutch have eaten tulip bulbs when no other food was available.
Wealthy people began to purchase tulip bulbs that were brought back from Turkey by Venetian merchants. In 1577, Clusius sent to England some tulip bulbs but they did not catch on at that time. In the beginning of the seventeenth century, France began to become interested in tulips. In 1610, fashionable French ladies wore corsages of tulips.

Tulips in HollandTulips in Holland Claude Monet ~  Claude Monet       

It was in the seventeenth century that the phenomenon of tulipomania commenced. Tulip values raised day by day and the fever spread though Europe from France to the Low countries. In the course of a few years the Dutch were seized by tulipomania...Early in the seventeenth century, a small bed of tulips was valued at 15,000-20,000 francs. But the lust for tulips was not so much a enthusiasm for the flower, the bulbs became an actual type of currency. Their value changed from day to day and were quoted like stocks and shares.

During the period 1634-1637, people abandoned jobs, businesses, wives, homes and lovers to become tulip growers. For one bulb of the variety Vice-Roi one Dutchman paid thirty-six bushels of wheat, seventy-two of rice, four oxen, twelve sheep, eight pigs, two barrels of wine and four of beer, two tons of butter, a thousands pounds of cheese, a bed, clothes, and a silver cup: altogether making a a total value of 2,500 Dutch florins. Another paid twelve acres of land while still another gave a new carriage and twelve horses. The mania became fanaticism.

A certain man who had paid for a bulb its weight in gold upon hearing that a cobbler possessed the same variety bought the cobblers for 15,000 florin and right before the cobblers eyes crushed the bulb he had just purchased beneath his foot to insure that now he was the only person possessing that particular variety. And as if that were not enough he then informed the cobbler that he would have been willing to pay ten times as much for the particular bulb at which time the cobbler became so depressed that he went up to his loft and hung himself from the beam.
The tulip frenzy influenced fashion and many fabrics were decorated with tulip designs. Everyone frequented the market and speculated in tulip shares. It is believed the word bourse [stock exchange] derives from that period, because those who speculated in the tulip market held their meetings at the house of the noble family Van Bourse.   

In the beginning most of the bulbs arrived at the market from Flanders where they were grown by monks. Soon it was enough to simply exhibit a piece of paper attesting to the ownership of a bulb to sell it at a higher price, without producing the actual bulb. The number of bulbs on the market was about ten million. Then on April 27, 1637, a decree was issued declaring that the purchase and sale of tulip bulbs was to be conducted in the same way as any other business. Speculation ceased and many people were ruined. Although prices fell to reasonable proportions, tulips never did become rally cheap and even today they are relatively expensive.
Tulips continued to be prized in Turkey and an eighteenth century manuscript notes that the Sheik Mohammed Lalizare, official tulip grower of Ahmed(1703-1730) counted 1,323 varieties. Annual tulip festivals were held. In the nineteenth century: a diarist recorded that they had become popular with shop keepers and workman in England and that many varieties were grown. Tulips are still popular to this day and there are many varieties some most exotic that we enjoy in our gardens.


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