Tulips have a long and rather illustrious history. This wild flower from central Asia became a living status symbol and defined a period of Dutch history before settling down to become a garden standard in much of the world.
Early cultivars and wild tulips were most likely monochromatic like these.
Originally cultivated by the Turks around 1000 A.D., tulips got their English name from a corruption of the Turkish word for turban.
In the 1600s, Ambassador Ogier de Busbecq sent tulip bulbs from Constantinople to biologist Carolus Clusius in Vienna. Clusius planted the bulbs and began Europe’s obsession with the exotic flower.
Multi-color tulips like this were at the heart of the tulip craze.
Tulips quickly became all the rage, especially in Holland. Many invested their life savings or sold everything they had to participate in the tulip market.
Eventually, tulip supply outran the hype, and the market crashed. Many individuals went bankrupt as a result, and the government was forced to institute trade restrictions to prevent a recurrence of the craze.
Three hundred years later, the rare, two-tone, mutated petals that fed the fires of tulip mania were found to be caused by the mosaic virus, which is transmitted through lice. The multi-color tulips available today are hybrids that owe their roots to Holland’s tulip mania, when they were unknowingly bred to mimic the mosaic virus.