Europe's and eventually America's love affair with the Tulip began during the mid-16th century
when European travelers to Turkey discovered the plant and brought it back to be cultivated
in their gardens. Tulips had been cultivated in the Middle East since the 12th and 13th centuries,
but it was not until 1562 that the first Dutch plantation was established. In a book published in
1561, Conrad Gesner described a beautiful red tulip and its incredible fragrance that was growing
in the garden of one of Gesner's friends. This was the first recorded account of the Tulip growing
The Tulip is actually native to several parts of the world including Siberia, the Caucasus, the
Crimea, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. There are currently more than 5500 different
varieties listed in The International Register published by The Royal General Bulbgrowers'
Association in The Netherlands. In the 450+ years since the Tulip was brought to Europe, the
plant has enjoyed a history as varied and incredible as human history.
Between 1634 and 1637, one of the most bizarre episodes in the history of the Tulip unfolded in
Holland, known as "The Tulipomania". During this three year period, a buying frenzy erupted
around several varieties of Tulips, including a red and white striped variety - Semper Augustus.
The frenzy became so exaggerated that single bulbs were selling for the equivalent of 15 years wages for an average worker. The frenzy ended as quickly as it had begun, but in the aftermath
many hardworking, respectable middle class families had lost their fortunes and their livelihoods.
One of the most intriguing characteristics of tulips was that seemingly without provocation a
single bulb could completely change color and habit. A simple pink tulip could rebloom the
following year as a splendid beauty with feathered and flamed petals bearing intricate patterns
of pink, white and green. This transformation, known as "breaks" was caused by a virus carried
by aphids. The "broken" tulips were highly prized and commanded large prices. For nearly
300 years, the mechanism which caused these "breaks" was unknown until Dorothy Cayley, a
mycologist studying tulips in London, made the discovery in 1928.
Tulips made their way to the New World with the first Dutch colonists who settled in what is
now Manhattan and coastal New York State in 1624. By 1698, William Penn had received a
report of tulips growing on a Pennsylvania estate and by 1760 Boston newspapers were
advertising tulip "roots" for sale.
The love affair that started in Europe in the mid 16th century and expanded to America in the
early 17th century was destined to explode over the following 3 centuries. Tulips remain one of
the most popular flowers of all time and their future appears to be every bit as bright as their