The Suitcase Lady


May 10, 2016, 8:32 pm

My first encounter with tulips did not end well. Tulips lined the side of our house, and at age two I snapped off all the opening buds and was starting to eat them when my mother rushed out of the house and sternly informed me that tulips weren’t food.

The same year I was attempting to eat the tulip flowers, the people in the Netherlands saved themselves from starvation by eating their tulip bulbs. It was the last horrific year of WWII, the Nazis still occupied the Netherlands and tulip bulbs were plentiful because all trade had stopped. Newspapers ran life saving recipes for potato, cabbage and tulip bulb stew.

Tulips and Holland are synonymous. However, the Turks get credit for cultivating the tulip from a central Asian wild flower. This occurred around 1000 A.D. The name tulip was derived from a Turkish word for “turban”.

Tulips arrived in Holland in the 1500’s, and the first major book on them was written in 1592 by a professor at The University of Leiden.

By the mid-seventeenth century, everyone in Holland was crazy for the flowers and an economic bubble, “Tulip Mania”, resulted. The bulbs became so expensive that they were used like money. The most desired bulbs were the “flame tulips”, ones with multi colored petals caused by a virus. Semper Augustus, the most valued tulip sold during the frenzy, cost 10,000 Guilders, the price of a canal house. Inevitably, the market crashed and floral sanity returned.

Photo by Alessandro Vecchi, <br>licensed under Creative Common

Photo by Alessandro Vecchi,
licensed under Creative Common

Tulips remain big business in the Netherlands; millions of bulbs are exported every year and millions of tourists are imported to view the dazzling tulip fields and festivals. The Netherlands contains half of all the greenhouses in Europe.

The Dutch register every tulip variety on an official list. The keeper of the list is the Koninklijk Algemeene voor Bloembollencultuur ( Royal General Association for Bulb Culture).

Whichever of the 8,000 varieties you choose, Sorbet, Salsa, Red Emperor, Flaming Kiss, Angel’s Dream, Carnaval de Nice or Mickey Mouse to name a few, they are guaranteed to brighten up any day. Just don’t eat them.

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