Tulips in Europe

Tulips in Europe
The first tulips arrived in Europe in the 1550s and swept in a new era of gardening history called tulipomania.

The first tulips arrived in the West in 1554 from Turkey. These were introduced to Britain in 1578.

Several stories supposedly explain how and when tulips were introduced to Europe. However, there is uncertainty as to how accurate these accounts are.

In the first version, the ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire, Ogier Ghiselin de BusbecqBasbecq to the Suleiman the Magnificent, who was sultan of Turkey, traveled to Istanbul where he saw tulips. He reportedly sent seeds back to Vienna in 1554. The seedlings were planted in a garden in Augsburg in 1559. This particular tulip has been described as having a rather plain looking flower. What is missing from this story are the details a gardener would ask. For example, was the parent plant that bore the seeds a cultivated garden variety or a wild tulip?

The other version says a ship with a cargo of tulip bulbs arrived in Antwerp, which created a mystery in the city among the burghers as to what they should do with the bulbs. They tried eating a few of the bulbs, and reportedly threw the rest on a garbage heap, where they sprouted and bloomed. In this version of the story, the bulbs are believed to have been likely wild species. Still a third story is presented in “The Meaning of Flowers” by Gretchen Scoble et al. This account says that an European visiting Istanbul saw tulips in a garden and took one back to Europe with him/her

In general, Europeans preferred the cup shaped tulip flowers rather than the lyre shaped ones. In the 17th century the Dutch were growing 140 varieties of tulips. The sky blue tulip was in great demand but was extremely rare. The striped and red ones were also very popular in Europe.

Tulipomania crashed in 1637. Flemish still lifes from the 17th century often depicted tulips.

Most species tulips were introduced no earlier than the last quarter of the 19th century. The black parrot tulips have been around since the early 1900s. This is dark burgundy with flaming black edges. The stems are strong.

What the breaking or streaking actually signifies on tulips is that the bulb had been infected with a virus, which is spread by insects. This was only learned in recent times. Once a bulb got the virus, it never reverts to its usual colors.

The historical timeline of tulips can vary slightly according to the species or variety being grown.

Charles de l’Ecluse, who was known as Clusius, the botanist, wrote about double tulips in the 1580s. He was the director of the emperor’s garden in Leyden.

The cottage tulips were ones grown in the Victorian era in cottage gardens. The Darwin tulips date to 1889. The Mendels came from the Darwins.

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