Tulips are a beautiful simple flower. The species are perennials from bulbs. The meaning of a tulip is generally perfect love. They come in a variety of different colors. The red tulip is mostly associated with true love. White tulips are used to claim worthiness or send a message of forgiveness. The yellow tulip once represented hopeless love, but has now evolved somewhat to being a common expression for cheerful thoughts and sunshine. Purple tulips symbolize royalty. And variable tulips represent striking eyes.
Tulips grew wild in Persia over a thousand years ago. Near Kabul the Great Mogul Baber counted 33 different species. In Europe, the tulip was considered to be the symbol of the Ottoman Empire. Artists painted and drew it often and Persian poets sang its praises.
Tulip bulbs were brought back from Turkey by Venetian merchants and wealthy people began to purchase them. In the early 1600’s, corsages of tulips were worn by fashionable French ladies and tulip designs were decorated on many fabrics. In the 17th century, just a small bed of tulips was valued at 15,000 to 20,000 francs. The bulbs value was quoted like stocks and shares and the bulbs became a currency.
There was actually something called Tulipmania which flourished between 1634 and 1637. It was similar to the California Gold Rush – people would abandon their jobs, homes, wives, lovers and businesses to become tulip growers. This frenzy spread across France and Europe to the Low Countries.
It’s been recorded that a Dutchman paid 36 bushels of wheat, 72 of rice, 12 sheep, 4 oxen, 2 barrels of wine and 4 of beer, 8 pigs, 2 tons of butter, 1,000 pounds of cheese, clothes, a bed and a silver cup, just for one Vice-Roi bulb.
This obsession was beyond reason in a crazed population. There are records showing one buyer paying 12 acres of land – and another buyer paying with a brand new carriage and 12 horses. One story tells of a new owner, who, after paying for a bulb with its weight in gold, found out that a cobbler possessed the same variety. He then bought the cobbler’s bulb and crushed it so that the value of his first bulb would increase.
After World War II, the Dutch shipped hundreds and thousands of tulip bulbs to Ottawa, Canada showing their gratitude to Canadian soldiers for freeing Holland from the German occupation and also for welcoming Queen Maria to reside in Ottawa while the war was raging on.
Wealthy people speculated on tulip shares. Speculators held their meetings at the house of the noble family Van Bourse (the word bourse is derived from the mania) There were Monks in Flanders that grew most of the bulbs. Bulbs were traded just like stock using paper representation of ownership. It was in 1637 that speculation became illegal. There were many people, especially in Holland, who were ruined as prices fell.
Tulip bulbs are actually eaten by some people, and the Japanese makes a kind of flour from them.