The History of the Tulip
Tulips originated in the wilds of the Tien Shan Mountains of Central Asia and were cultivated in Persia and Turkey beginning in the 10th Century. With the flower’s highly prized, colorful blossoms, the tulip was the symbol of the 15th Century Ottoman Empire. Ottoman sultans enjoyed the flower as their own treasure until a century later when Western diplomats to the Ottoman court took note of the breathtaking floral oddity and reported on them. Most likely confusing the Turkish tradition of wearing tulips in one’s turban with the flower itself, Europeans mistakenly gave tulips their name, which comes from the Persian word meaning turban.
Tulips were rapidly introduced into Europe and became a frenzied commodity during “Tulip Mania,” an economic bubble during the Dutch Golden Age in which prices and reverence for the fashionable flower reached extraordinarily high levels. Tulips were frequently featured in Dutch Golden Age paintings, with Rembrandt notably painting some of the most admired tulips of his time. In February 1637, at the peak of Tulip Mania, some tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. And as people bought into the craze, tulip bulbs became so expensive that they were used as money—with people even trading their homes for a handful of bulbs—until the market crashed.
A few stems of the beautiful blossoms make a big impact.
Despite the market crash, Dutch adoration of the tulip endures. And tulips are synonymous with the Netherlands, now known as the “flower shop of the world,” where they are cultivated in expansive fields of incredible color, and spring tulip festivals buzz with happy, flower-loving crowds across the country. When the Dutch crossed the seas to settle New Amsterdam—now New York—they brought their love of tulips with them, and to this day, tulips and tulip festivals are prominent in New York, as well as in Holland, Michigan, where the connection to their Dutch heritage remains strong.
With their majestic stem lengths of at least 24 inches and bloom heads that can be the size of a coffee cup, French Tulips are known to growers and florists as “The Mother of Tulips.” This tulip varietal was developed by Dutchman John Theodore Scheepers. He came to the United States in 1897 and founded his own eponymous flower-bulb importing company, which revolutionized the flower-bulb industry in America. He became widely known as “The Tulip King.” In 1930, Scheepers introduced the tetraploid hybrid tulip, named for his wife ‘Mrs. John T. Scheepers,’ which contains twice as many chromosomes and genetic materials as standard tulip varieties, thus their stately conformation which enjoys prominence in floral arrangements due to their striking elegance and beauty.
In the 17th century Netherlands, an aphid-borne infection of tulip bulbs created flame-like streaks and striking multicolored patterns in the tulip petals that were much admired. These were the most prized tulips of the time and were used as status symbols among the wealthy. The arresting parrot tulips are an offshoot of the “broken” petals of the 17th Century and known today as part of the “fancy tulip” variety. The Dutch Parrot Tulip is Wild Things founder, Carolyn Chen’s favorite flower, and we can see why. Their gorgeous color combinations; wavy textures; serrated, ruffled edges are simply entrancing. A bouquet of these beauties is a sight to behold.
Also in the fancy tulip family, the fringed tulip is a newer breed developed by one of the modern masters of tulip breeding, Geert Hageman. These tulips feature finely incised fringe on the edges of the petals, and come in many varieties in a delightful array of colors and heights.
The Beauty of Decay
Everyone knows the joy of watching a flower bloom, as you can witness in these satisfying time-lapse videos:
But there is also a stirring beauty in the decay of the tulip, like the ballet of the dying swan. Here are some examples of this moving part of the tulip’s journey in images captured in a study by Carolyn:
As French tulips decay, their long stems gently arch and bend in different directions.
Fringed tulips are a somewhat droopy flower, but as they reach their peak, they left skyward, right before their petals begin to fall.
Similar to the Fringed tulip, the Parrot tulip lilts upward, then becomes droopy before its petals wilt and fall.
And here are some time-lapse videos of this beautiful process:
All photographic images (not including historical renderings) are courtesy of David Hillegas Photography.
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Our arrangements are individually unique, with a garden-style aesthetic that embraces the natural beauty of each flower, imperfections and all. Wild Things is woman-owned and operated. Our team hand-delivers our florals and goods every day, all over Birmingham. The boutique stocks trendy gifts and eclectic merchandise, while the studio hosts parties, gatherings and holds a floral arranging workshop monthly. Wild Things invites you to stop by our shop for a mental break in your day and experience the atmosphere of the store. Whether that means giving the shop dogs some love, stopping by to smell the fresh flowers (and take a few home), or just coming because you’re curious, we hope you’ll leave inspired and ready to take on the next part of your day.