Traditional dutch windmills and houses with rows of beautiful colorful tulips near the canal in Zaanstad village, Zaanse Schans, Netherlands, Europe

600 Years of Tulipmania: What’s the Big Deal about Tulips?

For many people, flowers are just flowers–they bloom, provide beauty, and die.

But when you look beneath the surface and dig into the history of some of your favorite varieties, you may be shocked at all the fascinating facts and stories that you can find.

Tulips, one of the most well-known flowers on almost every continent, are no exception. From Turkey to the Netherlands, people have been in love with tulips for hundreds of years, and even today, the tulip holds a special place in pop culture.

Worldwide Love for Tulips

The tulip’s long journey to prominence all starts in the Ottoman Empire, which is present-day Turkey. Tulips had always bloomed in that area of the world, with the first records of their growth from 1000 BCE, but it wasn’t until a certain sultan took power that their popularity began to skyrocket. Because the Sultan loved these flowers so much, Turkey began to throw annual tulip festivals, and it became illegal to buy or sell tulips outside of the capital city.

This was the first time that tulips became a cultural phenomenon, but it wouldn’t be the last. In addition to Turkey’s tulip frenzy, the Netherlands had their own fascination with the plant that was infamously dubbed “Tulipmania.” During the peak of Tulipmania, the best tulips could sell for 4,000 florins–an entire year’s worth of wages. Unfortunately, these prices didn’t last long, and the market inevitably crashed, leaving a financial crisis for hopeful tulip growers (and making everyone who spent a year’s wages on a flower feel ridiculous!). 

Today’s Tulipmania 

This Dutch market crash was so important in history that today, investors still use the phrase Tulipmania as part of their everyday investment jargon. The housing bubble in 2008, for example, was basically a modern day example of what happened to the Dutch and their tulips–hopeful investors got too excited about one thing, and the market crashed. Right now, some investors anticipate that Bitcoin will also follow in the tulip’s footsteps.

Other than their prominence in investment lingo, tulips don’t have as much of a starring role in pop culture like the rose or the lily. Red tulips do, however, symbolize love and make a great gift to a loved one. Other colors carry different connotations: white tulips signify forgiveness, yellow tulips are for cheerful thoughts, variegated tulips represent beauty. 

Buying Your Own Bulbs

Although you can’t use them as currency like the Turks or sell them for a year’s wages like the Dutch, tulips make an excellent addition to any garden. If you live somewhere windy, like the Midwest, you may want to consider Darwin Hybrid Tulips as they are weather and wind resistant. If you don’t need your plants to be quite as hardy, try a more unique-looking variety like variegated tulips or fringed tulips. 

Whichever variety you choose, it’s important to remember that tulips need very special care before they are planted! Tulips will start sending up shoots as soon as you put them in the ground, leading them to face an early death if you plant while it’s still too cold. Most people recommend storing your bulbs until the springtime, keeping them in the crisper drawer of your fridge away from other food. Once they are in the ground, tulips are hardy perennials that will last for years to come. 

Because tulips are so expensive, not much medical research has been done, but it is rumored that crushed-up tulips can calm down skin that is inflamed, itchy, or bug-bitten. The jury’s still out on whether this is scientifically true, but if you end up growing your own bulbs, it’s worth a try! 

From Sultans to Dutch nobility, people have long recognized the tulip’s beauty and value. If you want to see for yourself, give growing your own a try–preferably before the next Tulipmania hits and you have to save up an entire year’s wages to buy one.