Continuing our series of blog posts about flowers and plants that are in season now, we turn our attention to a lot of people’s favourite – the tulip.

Like other flowering bulbs that bloom in the chilly beginnings of the year, tulips are such a wonderful sign that spring is on its way. Cut tulips come onto the flower markets much earlier than the tulips growing in your garden though – they appear in December and are available until April. A bit like winter rhubarb, these tulips are ‘forced’ by methods of temperature control into a different blooming schedule.

To celebrate the tulip, here are five facts you may or may not know about them:

  1. Tulips continue to grow after they have been cut – sometimes up to an inch or more – and they are ‘phototropic’, growing and bending towards the light.
  2. White tulips are sometimes used to represent forgiveness, while purple tulips can be a symbol of royalty.
  3. For a period in the 17th century, new varieties and colours of tulip became fiercely sought after across Northern Europe, and demand for the most highly prized bulbs outweighed demand by such an extent that prices were inflated to unthinkable heights. The craze reached its peak in Holland between 1633 and 1637, during which time houses and estates were mortgaged to buy tulips, single tulip bulbs were accepted as dowry for brides, and one thriving French brewery was sold for the price of a single tulip bulb. In 1637 the bubble burst due to doubts that prices could continue to increase, bringing financial ruin. ‘Tulip Mania’, as it is known, (Tulpenwindhandel in Dutch) is said to be the first economic bubble in history.
  4. Alexandre Dumas’ 1850 novel ‘The Black Tulip’ tells the story of a race to breed a black tulip in a dutch town for a prize of 100,000 guilders. In reality, the first truly black tulip was produced in 1986 by a dutch grower who crossed two varieties of deep purple tulip. 
  5. Variegated tulips with delicately feathered bi-colour flowers (highly sought after during Tulip Mania) came about because of a virus called ‘tulip breaking virus’ which is spread by aphids. Unfortunately, as well as causing beautiful colouring and patterns, the virus weakens the flowers over generations. These beautiful infected flowers became known as ‘broken’ tulips. Today the virus is almost eradicated from tulip growers’ fields and, because of the threat the virus brings to the dutch flower market, broken tulips are illegal in The Netherlands. 

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