The tulips have replaced the daffodils and allium are on their way. But as we say goodbye to a favorite spring bulb, we know our loss is only aesthetic and seasonal. In seventeenth century Holland it was also financial.
Tulips found their way to Europe via Turkey around the middle of the 1500s. They may have been cultivated in Turkey as early as 1000 AD. Special colors were coveted and flowers with brilliant streaks especially so. (Now it is believed these were the result of a mosaic virus). In Holland a horticulturist named Carolus Clusius and others began hybridizing the most unusual varieties, and the Dutch love affair began. Only the wealthiest could afford these beautifully marked varieties. Later solid colors were sold to the masses and everyone was able to enjoy their beauty. But at a price.
The mania and prices for specialty bulbs hit a high in 1636-37. The Dutch controlled the trade and bulbs were sold as an investment. It was a speculative market based on future cultivation of a coveted bulb. Promissory notes were sold and resold at ever higher prices until the flower was finally available. The investor who held the paper and received the actual plant was the loser. Like the tech stock bubble it was all based on something virtual – nothing concrete. The Dutch called it the “wind trade” – transactions based on air. And like in recent times, at some point the bubble burst.