Wooden shoes, canals and tulips are the images that spring to mind when people think of the Netherlands. However, tulips are not native to the Netherlands.
Tulips had been cultivated in Turkish gardens for years and there were over a thousand types of tulips by the time Europe discovered the flower. In the late 16th century tulips were brought to Europe by the Austrian ambassador to Turkey, then known as Constantinople. From Austria tulips made their way to the Netherlands where the Dutch became leaders in producing prized specimens.
By the 1630’s tulip speculation, or tulipmania, was rampant throughout the Netherlands and both rich and poor were speculating in the tulip trade, similar to the stock market in modern times. Some people sold their land and houses in order to invest. Single bulbs of special varieties sometimes sold for sums that were more than ten times the annual income of someone in the middle class. Some of the most coveted varieties were tulips that had lines and streaks rather than a solid color. This effect is actually caused by a virus that ‘breaks’ the color on the plant. In 1637 the tulip market crashed leaving many Dutch penniless.
Despite the scars of tulipmania, the Dutch continued to cultivate these colorful flowers and the Netherlands still remains the chief source for tulip bulbs. They may no longer command such high sums, but their beauty if priceless. Since many people who travel to Amsterdam visit the Anne Frank House, it’s easy to learn more about the history of Netherland’s most iconic bloom at the Amsterdam Tulip Museum located across the bridge from the Anne Frank House.