Ahhh….the tulip. An iconic symbol of Holland -only to be topped by the windmill or the clog. You certainly can’t get more Dutch than the tulip. Or can you? 😉

I will let you in on a little secret. The precious symbol of the Netherlands is not really Dutch at all!

The colourful presence of the tulip is owed to the Ottoman empire (by way of trade) and a flemish (oh my!) botanist who discovered that the hardy flowers thrived in the harsh climate of the lowlands.

Although not their own, the Dutch took to the tulip, and the flower trade in general, like bees to honey. Dutch flower exports now make up a 5 billion euro industry and chances are the tulips you gave your sweetheart last week in New York to make up for being such a grouchy bore were in fact born and bred on Dutch soil!

Tulips and the Dutch have an illustrious and chequered past. A love-hate relationship of sorts and one good enough for the history books.

Although incomprehensible, at the height of their Golden-Age-popularity, one measly bulb could fetch 10 times the annual salary of a skilled worker (or as much as a treacherously-staired canal house).

The Dutchies were simply mad for those little bulbs! So mad in fact, that  in 1637 their over-the-top enthusiasm for the flowers triggered a massive speculative frenzy and the tulip market took a spectacular dive. Many a Dutchie lost their entire fortune (and apparently their minds) in tulipmania!

One can only wonder… can the irrationality of tulipmania explain the other frightful obsessions of the Dutch? 


18 Responses

  1. Ginandtonic

    Supposedly, the first Dutchman who received a tulip bulb as a gift did not know what it was or what to do with it, so he had his staff prepare it for a meal…

  2. byurie

    I was wondering why the tulips were missing from your blog. So now I’m happy to see them here.

    Two years ago I visited the tulip museum in Amsterdam. I was surprised to see how much care they take to make the tulips grow. Just five years before that I took five Dutch tulip bulbs to Armenia and put them in the garden. Now there is a huge garden of tulips absolutely without the enormous care the Dutch take for their tulips.

  3. Derk

    “…chances are the tulips you gave your sweetheart last week in New York to make up for being such a grouchy bore were in fact born and bred on Dutch soil!”.

    Or any other flower for that matter.

  4. Dutch

    Well, yes. We’re not really inventers. We do sales a LOT better!

  5. sjaak

    ”Many a Dutchie lost their entire fortune in tulipmania” is not true at all. It’s a myth made up by a scottsman named Charles Mackay in his book ‘extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds’ 200 years after tulipmania was going on. No accounts of a Dutchman going bankrupt because of tulipmania have been found.

    • Humus

      Well, I am going to disagree with you on that. prices of Tulip bulbs did drop spectacular in February 1637 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulip_mania)
      The bulbs went from “worth as much as a house” to normal prices within half a year… leaving owners of said bulbs a lot poorer then they where. Luckily these traders where ridiculously wealthy to start with, so nobody starved.
      This was the first recorded speculation bubble, where everybody involved could have known the bulb weren’t actually worth the prices being paid for them, but because everybody involved was making so much money we continued with it anyways.

  6. Miss Footloose

    Ah, sjeesh, you had to go and spill the secret!

  7. tim

    What a nice subject. And what a surprise there are only 3 comments by now. My guess is that people don’t react if they can’t write something negative.

  8. Dropje-Kopje

    I could lose myself in the fragrant cup of a big red tulip. The very redolessence of spring.

    • Blackfoot

      Unfortunately, like most flowers, the tulips have pretty much lost all their fragrance. They are being modified all the time and colour, endurance and size seem to be far more interesting.

  9. Irving

    The Dutch don’t invent, they just sell you your own stuff.
    Like my Oma said: “Jongen, if we could sell our mother we’ll do it. But the price needs to be right.” 😀

  10. Bill Stewart

    During the late 1990s computer boom in the US, my wife used to refer to her job as being “in the tulip bulb business.”

  11. Claire

    So funny to read. I am dutch myself and I think it is a very interisting article to read. And about the little ‘knakworst’, I can assure you, we don’t put them in our coctails. 😉

  12. Blackfoot

    One of the most told stories about WW2 in the Netherlands – besides the ‘Moffen’ stealing our bikes – is eating tulip bulbs. In the ‘hongerwinter’ when people had no food left, they would eat whatever they considered even slightly edible. And since there were lost of bulbs… So I guess you could say some Dutchies owe their lives to tulips.

  13. Zzoott Zzootticus

    Can someone please comment on the source of the Dutch tradition of striking one’s best friends with spent cut tulips about the shoulders, until the petals fall off, to celebrate April?

  14. Cindy T

    so are tulips the apple pie of the Dutch? so what’s the tulip of the ottoman empire?
    if you don’t get it t’s simple. apple pie is Dutch, tulips are ottoman, ottoman has…? huh, i don’t know. is there a “stuff middle easterners’ like”?


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