What’s more Dutch than tulips, windmills and Delft blue? Yet windmills were once invented in ancient Persia, Delftware was originally an imitation of Chinese blue porcelain and tulips? Those come from Turkey.

In the 17th century, Turkish sultans were fond of tulips. The flower, which came over from the plains of Mongolia, was called “lale” in Turkish, but was usually called “tulipan” because of its shape that was strongly reminiscent of the turban worn at the time. That’s how we came up with the name “tulip.

The sultans organized huge parties when the tulips were in bloom. Long rows of vases with tulips were placed in the gardens. In cages, nightingales croaked. Fireworks were set off and music was played. Dancers in their finest clothes tripped among the tulips. It is therefore understandable that a sultan could think of no finer gift than a package of bulbs for an envoy from Austria.

Through the scholar Carolus Clusius, who was in the process of creating a hortus for the University of Leiden, tulips were introduced to the Netherlands.


The tulip was particularly popular in the Netherlands. Wealthy lovers bought bulbs from florists (growers) to plant in their country houses or in the gardens of their canal houses. Soon everyone was trying to get a tulip for their little garden. One could choose from ‘‘ducken’ (red tulips with a yellow border, or red or pink on a white background that were called roses), ‘bizarren(red on a yellow background) or’violets (lilac or purple on white). But most popular were the varieties with strangely shaped flames.

People did not know then that those erratic shaped colors were a result of a severely debilitating virus. As now, the cultivated species were given names. Sometimes to the owner or his function: the “generael” or the “admirael” or to the place of origin, the grower or a Greek goddess. Tulips became a fad. No garden was complete without one or more tulips. Prices shot up. Businessmen saw their opportunity and people began reselling tulip bulbs, which were still in the ground, on paper. In this futures trade, papers went from hand to hand with profits each time while the increasingly precious bulbs rested in the cold ground. The trade turned into a madness unparalleled in Dutch history. The otherwise thrifty and frugal Dutch allowed themselves to be fooled by the tales of fabulous profits that were circulating. Especially rare flamed specimens brought huge prices. A well-known story is that of the Alkmaar kastelein Wouter Winkel who had bought a package of bulbs inexpensively that he hoped to sell for a large profit. Unfortunately, Winkel and his wife died before profits could be pocketed. His seven children ended up in the orphanage.

When the orphan fathers heard of the bulbs they tackled things big. A beautiful catalog was produced in which the tulips were pictured piece by piece in the appropriate colors. An auction was organized and merchants came from far and wide. The package of bulbs brought in the gigantic sum of Fl. 90,000, translated to our time would mean many millions. The orphans were at once seated citizens and the orphanage sailed by. Shortly thereafter, trading collapsed resulting in many suffering great losses and often even bankruptcy. The tulip again became an expensive but affordable flower for enthusiasts.