Tulips and Holland go together like ninjas and Japan, like bacon and Canada, like ninjas and bacon and the internet. You can’t think of one without the other. However, despite being the poster-flower for their tourism efforts, tulips are not a native plant to the Netherlands. Rather, tulips arrived in Holland with a splash, causing a big fuss that is forever known as tulipmania!
It was 1594 when the first tulips arrived in Amsterdam. They originally came from Persia and Asia, and the Dutch botanists were quickly enamoured with the vibrant and varied colours of the flowers. Big flowering gardens were all the rage at that time, so these lovely new additions became highly sought after. By the 1630s there were professional tulip traders in Holland who found that the demand very much outweighed the supply of bulbs. (they take over a year before they are ready to flower) Enter tulipmania!
Prices skyrocketed, and tulip bulbs were traded around fast and furious for vast sums. One trade on record illustrates the comparative value of these flowers:
Two lasts of wheat, four lasts of rye, four fat oxen, eight fat swine, twelve fat sheep, two hogsheads of wine, four casks of beer, two tons of butter, a complete bed, a suit of clothes, a silver drinking cup… all together valued at 2,500 florins, and traded for a single Viceroy tulip bulb!
… and the Viceroy variety was hardly fetching half the value of the coveted Semper Augustus bulb.
Like the dot-com bubble, or tickle-me-elmos, the tulipmania crashed as fast as it started and many “investors” were left holding bulbs suddenly worth one one-hundredth of what they had paid. Still, those Dutch still love their tulips. They are now the world’s number one grower and exporter, making tulips an important part of their economy at much more reasonable prices.
- Source: I’ve been reading the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, with a chapter on “Tulipomania” available online here.
- Supplementary source: http://tulipomania.org/