Today, the tulip is associated with Holland, but it is actually native to the dry hillsides of central Asia, near what is now the Russian-Chinese border. The tulip has a long and fascinating history, both as a plant and as a commodity.
Scholars believe that botanists in the Ottoman Empire began hybridizing the tulip as early as the year 1000 A.D. The tulip is still the national flower of Turkey.
Introduction to Europe
In 1556, an Austrian diplomat to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire first saw tulips growing in gardens in Adrianople and Constantinople. Shortly after this, tulip bulbs became a luxury item in Europe, primarily grown by scholars and the wealthy.
Botanist Carolus Clusius began cultivating tulip bulbs and seeds. When he took a position at a Dutch university in 1593, the flower became well-known in Holland.
The most widely admired tulips were those with new color combinations. The Semper Augustus was white with red flames, and its rarity made it exorbitantly expensive--at its height one bulb was worth the equivalent of a grand house in Amsterdam.
Tulip mania reached its height in the Republic of Holland in the years 1636-37. Tulip speculation, where future delivery of a rare tulip was promised to buyers, led to a collapse of the market; enforcement of economic controls by the Dutch government began in 1637.
Today, Dutch growers produce more than 9 billion flower bulbs annually, with the United States being the biggest importer.