....... Divertimento: Tulips

Wednesday, 11 May 2011


Ok, so tulips have little (nothing?) to do with Hong Kong or cooking, but I love them nonetheless. In fact they are my favourite blooms. So I when I woke up to another sunny day, I thought of tulips and decided to learn more about them. So here's a little 'history of tulips'.

We naturally associate tulips with the Netherlands (or Holland as some people prefer to call it). But in fact, tulips were first commercially cultivated in the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). It is thought that tulips originated thousands of years ago in a 'corridor' stretching along the 40 degree latitude between Northern China and Southern Europe. The first 'tulip mania' occurred in the Ottoman Empire during the 1500's when tulips were highly cultivated blooms developed for the pleasure of the royalty. By the 1700's the tulip reigned supreme as a symbol of power, wealth and prestige and the period became known as the 'Age of the Tulips'.

During the latter half of the 1500's, news of the extraordinary flower reached Europe. Tulips first gained popularity in Holland when Carolus Clusius became the Head Botanist at the Leiden Botanical Gardens in 1593, bringing with him tulip bulbs collected whilst he was clusius (prefect) stationed in Vienna which was just next door to the Ottoman Empire. Just like in the Ottoman Empire, tulips became a luxury item and a status symbol in Holland. The normally solid and sensible Dutch were willing to pay vast sums for the tulip bulbs and soon Holland was gripped by 'tulip mania'. Such was the craze that at the height of the 'tulip mania', bulbs of 1 or 2 Guilders could be worth 100 Guilders a few months later; bulbs could change owners several times before they even bloom for the first time! In 1635, a sale of 100,000 Guilders for 40 bulbs was recorded. This was equivalent to 10 times the average annual salary of a skilled labourer. In 1636, stock exchanges were established to trade in tulip bulbs and their future options!

Of course this hype had to end sometime. The Dutch tulip market crashed in 1637 leaving traders with not much more that a bunch of flowers.The Dutch may have been cured of this mania but have retained a love for these beautiful blooms. If you too would like to be awed by the beautiful tulips (or any blooms for that matter), the world famous Keukenhof Flower Garden near Amsterdam is probably the best place to head to. It is reputed to be the largest flower garden in the world. There are over 7 million flower bulbs and 4.5 million tulips in 100 varieties in the 32 hectare Keukenhof Flower Garden. The Garden is open for 2 months of each year and this year, it is open from 24 March to 20 May 2011.

So, you see, the tulip has a very colorful history (pardon the pun!).

Have a tulip day!

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