So it turns out tulips aren't from Holland.* But once, almost four hundred years ago, they so seduced Dutchmen that for a few hot months, trading tulips was the fastest way to a quick buck and then, suddenly, the surest path to a quick ruin. I'm finishing up reading Tulipomania by Mike Dash, and it's fascinating. He details the "tulip boom" of 1636-1637 and the evolution of both commerce and horticulture that led to it. I picked up the book because it might, tangentially, be related to a future writing project of mine. But it has ended up having the unexpected result of making me fall in love with tulips!
Today, tulips are spring's bright but, well, common handmaid. Wide beds of red or yellow tulips pop up at spring's arrival, just after the hardy crocuses and the cheerful daffodils. In years past I had not thought much about tulips, but after learning about how much they were once valued I've started looking at them in a different light. The traders of the 17th century did not value all tulips the same, and they were likely almost as indifferent to the plain red varieties as I am today. But the more delicate, rarer types fired the lust of collectors and the greed of traders. The highest reliably-recorded price for a single bulb during the boom was 5,200 guilders. For some perspective: a typical middle-ranking merchant would earn 1,500 guilders a year, and seven years after the boom Rembrandt would rake in 1,600 guilders as his fee for his masterpiece, The Night Watch. After the bust, one trader tried to solicit a lawyer's help to recoup his losses, including 6,000 guilders paid for four pounds of Switser bulbs.
Nature conspired with my reading to bring us a beautiful crop of tulips here in the city, just as I was reading the book. So now I'm hooked on tulips. I even love the way they die -- with exuberance. Many of them just keep blooming, giving it all they've got, til they can't handle it anymore and just fall off. Such a great way to go.
It's past tulip season now but here are some photos I took last weekend.
I love the double tulips -- they're my favorite.
* Wild tulips are originally from the plains of central Asia.