When most Americans think of Holland, it is wooden shoes, windmills and tulips that come to mind. Tulips are still a huge part of the flower economy in Holland. However, the Holland flower market is extremely diverse. It is the most well-known flower center in the world. Floral distributors import and export billions of flowers, bulbs and plants annually through the Holland market, reaching florists worldwide.
Dutch tulips were the beginning of commercial flower growing in Holland. The tulip dates back to the end of the 16th century, when the famous botanist Carolus Clusius became the head of the university in Leiden in 1593. He had acquired some tulip bulbs and seeds from a Viennese ambassador and cultivated these at the university. Clusius and other botanists experimented and developed new colors and various color combinations of tulips. Their flowers became highly sought after, bringing huge prices that only wealthy aristocrats could afford to pay.
By the 1630s, common tulips were being grown in large numbers, with prices most people could afford.
Flower bulb production and other floriculture in the Netherlands is huge business. It accounts for most of the world bulb market, with nearly 600 million bulbs produced annually. Almost 12,000 Dutch plant nurseries handle this output. In addition, more than 4 billion floricultural products and more than 5 billion ornamental plants are also sold per year.
Billions of flowers and plants are distributed through the wholesale markets in Holland each year. They are shipped fresh daily to florists, achieving a reliable rate of safe delivery. Within Europe, most shipping goes by high speed trains. The rest reach their destination by air. Specialized packaging and handling help make the worldwide trade possible. Buyers can make Dutch flower market purchases live from anywhere in the world and have delivery usually within 24 to 48 hours.
Most Dutch flowers are sold to European countries, but the eastern United States and the Chicago area are sizable importers as well.
Tulip, daffodil, gladiolus, lily, amaryllis, crocus and a host of other bulbs are produced in Dutch nurseries. Top production of cut flowers includes chrysanthemums, roses, gerbera daisies, freesias and anthurium. Potted varieties include kalanchoe, dracaena, ficus, roses, hydrangeas, cyclamen and chrysanthemums.
Holland is the European center for importing African roses. Latest figures, which are available for 2008 from the Flower Council of Holland, show that Kenya supplied half of the roses imported through Holland. The Kenyan total amounted to 1.3 billion cut stems. Other countries that make up the remainder of the African rose trade are Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania. From the Holland flower markets, African roses are shipped to florists around the world.