The History of Flower Bulbs


Flowering bulbs have held a special place in human history and culture. They have been known from ancient times and have been incorporated into stories and myths around the world. Many of these plants are still grown in gardens today, although their modern relatives are much larger and more colorful than their ancestors.

Mythological Origins

Many of the flowering bulbs we know today have ancient mythology surrounding their origins. The scientific name for daffodils, narcissus, came from the Greek story of the nymph Echo and the vain Narcissus, who was said to be transformed by the gods into a daffodil. Likewise, the hyacinth derives it's name from the Greek story of the god Apollo and his favorite athlete, Hyacinthus. While Hyacinthus was dying in Apollo's arms from a discus-throwing injury, a hyacinth flower grew from his wound. Crocuses were said to bloom in honor of Zeus and Hera's love.


Tulips are native to the Middle East and as far as southern China, but their introduction into the West was via the Ottoman Empire. This is where the first "tulipmania" occurred during the 16th century. Tulips were highly prized flowers grown by the sultan and only allowed to be sold within the capital city limits. Tulips were a symbol of wealth and social status during what is called the "Age of Tulips." The Dutch had the most famous "tulipmania" during the mid 1630s due to rabid tulip market speculation. Tulips were often bought and sold many times over before a bulb had an opportunity to flower for the first time. This all came crashing down in 1637, ruining the Dutch economy, and many lost everything they owned.


Holland has a long history of producing bulbs. In the late 16th century, large scale production of daffodils and tulips was happening in the well-suited climate. Large, colorful hybrids that don't resemble the original species very much were created for the commercial ornamental flower and bulb trade. Dutch colonists are responsible for spreading the flowers all over the world during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Poet's Daffodil

Linneanus, the famous botanist who designed the structure of naming and categorizing plants, named a species of daffodil, Narcissus poeticus, assuming this was the very species the Greek boy Narcissus had turned into. This species has been a centerpiece in artwork and poetry around the world including the famous poem "Daffodils," by William Wordsworth.

Modern Times

In recent history, Holland is still the world's largest producer of flower bulbs, followed by Great Britain. The U.S. is the world's largest importer of bulbs. Bulbs of all types---tulips, lilies, crocus, hyacinth, daffodils and specialty bulbs such as amaryllis---have been hybridized for size and color and are currently commercially grown for the flower industry.

Keywords: hyacinth bulb, tulipmania, daffodil history

About this Author

Brian Albert has been in the publishing industry since 1999. He is an expert in horticulture, with a focus on aquatics and tropical plants like orchids. He has successfully run an aquatic plant business for over five years. Albert's writing experience includes the Greater Portland Aquarium Society newsletter and politics coverage for a variety of online journals.