BACKGROUND: Holland (the Netherlands) is famous for its tulips. Some researchers are asking what the United States can learn from the Dutch about the ideal conditions for this flower to flourish.
WHAT ARE TULIPS? Tulip is a genus that encompasses some 100 species of flowering plants within the botanical family Liliaceae. Although the cultivated varieties are associated with Holland, tulips are also native to southern Europe, north Africa and Asia. In fact, the tulip is the national flower of Iran and Turkey. Tulips are perennial bulbous plants, instantly recognizable by their large flowers with six petals (called "tepals").
HOW THEY'RE GROWN: Numerous so-called "cultivars" have been developed for use in gardens to grow specific varieties of tulip. They can be grown through genetic clones (called "offsets") or through seeds, but the only way to breed a specific cultivar of tulip is through offsets. With seeds, the mixing of genes between parent tulips is too unpredictable. A flower grown from a seed will usually only bear a slight resemblance to the flower from which the seeds were taken. That's why there is such great variety among tulips grown in the wild. Tulips require a cold winter to flourish, although cultivators can force the plants to flower earlier than normal by manipulating the temperatures in a greenhouse, for example. Growing tulips also requires patience: offsets take at least a year before they are mature enough to flower, while a tulip grown from seed will not flower until five to seven years after planting.
TULIP MANIA: Tulips became so popular in the 17th century that they were considered a form of currency, and were traded on the stock exchanges of numerous Dutch towns and cities. Tulip bulbs were exchanged for land, valuable livestock, even houses. By 1623, a single bulb of a rare variety could cost as much as a thousand Dutch florins, at a time when the average yearly income was 150 florins. Demand for the bulbs became so strong that 40 bulbs sold for 100,000 florins in 1635. The bubble burst in 1637, and thousands of Dutch were financially ruined. "Tulip mania" is a term now used to describe any large economic bubble that cannot be sustained.