The Netherlands is known for many different things. The country is renowned for its Dutch Tulips, and thriving flower industry. You might wonder, how is it possible that a simple flower creates worldwide fame for a country like The Netherlands.
The tulip is the national flower of The Netherlands. Today it’s famous for its large flower fields and Keukenhof, the largest flower garden in the world, receiving over a million visitors a year. During the 17th century, the tulip became a status symbol for the Dutch. The widespread tulip trade created the first economic bubble of trade known as Tulip Mania.
Did you know the tulip originates in another country? It only reached The Netherlands at the end of the 16th century. And during a period of starvation in World War II, eating tulip bulbs saved thousands of lives. There are many historical facts about this, at first sight, simple flower. Let’s find out more!
Origin of the Famous Tulip
The origin of the tulip is not in The Netherlands. The tulip originates from the Ottoman-Empire (what we now know as Turkey). The area in central Asia what we know now as Turkey. It only came to the Netherlands at the end of the 16th century.
Tulips grew as wild-flowers in central Asia and brought to the attention of the Suleiman I, also known as Suleiman, the Magnificent. Who was the longest-reigning sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He ordered the cultivation of these wildflowers for its pleasure and let them plant in several gardens. The tulip became a symbol of wealth quickly in the Ottoman Empire.
The tulip thanks its name because it looks like a turban. The wealthiest Ottomans even wore tulips on their Turbans. The name Tulip is derived from the Persian word Tulipan, which means turban.
Introduction of the Tulips in The Netherlands
In the late 16th century, the tulip made his first appearance in The Netherlands. The flower gained more and more attention after Carolus Clusius, a botanist and professor at the University of Leiden, planted a few tulip bulbs in the Hortus Botanicus. After the tulips bloomed, the people were stunned by its beauty and pleasant perfumes.
It didn’t take long before the tulips became popular. Carolus Clusius took great care of the tulips in the botanical garden in Leiden. He discovered a virus in tulips, which he could use to create new tulips with other colors. Later this would be recognized as the foundation for the Dutch tulip breeding and bulb industry.
Carolus Clusius didn’t want to share its knowledge at first. However, the tulips became so famous people stole the bulbs and flowers from the garden. To prevent this, he wrote a book about the European flora. Where he also dedicated a big part to breeding tulips.
The tulip became a symbol of wealth for the Dutch quickly. Its popularity affected the whole country, and symbols of tulips soon became visible in paintings and on festivals. Many Dutch entrepreneurs recognized this hype as an economic chance, which resulted in the trade of tulip bulbs.
At the start of the 17th century, the tulip industry was thriving. Everyone wanted to have tulips to show their wealth to the community. And if you couldn’t get real tulips in your garden, you at least made sure you would get a lovely painting or something. Tulips became the new fashion.
This tulip hype took place during a period that is reffered to in The Netherlands as Golden Age. During this period, the Dutch Eastern Company (VOC) was the most successful trade company in the world. Which also resulted in the world’s highest income per capita in The Netherlands.
People kept asking for more tulip bulbs, with different colors and shapes. The entrepreneurs recognized this as a new chance and created many new products, to keep up with the demand. Also, they pushed the price of a tulip bulb to absurd heights. At a certain point, tulip bulbs sold for ten times more than the average yearly income of a craftsman! The Tulip Mania, an economic bubble, was born.
The Tulip bubble collapsed
The rich kept spending more money on tulips, and the middle class started to see an opportunity to make some money. So everyone profited from the Tulip Mania, but it was al speculative, future trading.
Tulip bulbs were traded, and the price was set per weight of a tulip bulb, even when they were still in the ground. During winter months, when the bulbs didn’t grow, paper contracts were made to seal a trade for the following months to come.
Between 1630 – 1636, the Tulip industry grew so fast, that tulip bulbs became the fourth largest export product of The Netherlands.
Around 1637, things started to change for the Tulip industry. And it began to change fast.
During a bulb auction in the city of Haarlem, traders didn’t show up, and sellers couldn’t get the high prices they usually got for selling the bulbs. The traders didn’t show up in Haarlem because there was an outbreak of plague in the city, and they didn’t want to take the risk of getting infected. Word spread fast, and the market changed almost overnight. Trade came to an end, and people went bankrupt in a blink of an eye.
When the dust settled, and the market went back to normal again, a lot of entrepreneurs still saw an opportunity in the tulip industry. Overseas there was still a demand for tulips, and however, the prices were at the lowest point ever. The creative Dutch traders still managed to develop a flourishing industry.
The Famous Tulip Industry Today
Tulip Mania was like the start of the growth of the industry. In the last 400 years, the tulip- and flower industry became an essential economic industry in The Netherlands. The Netherlands exports Two-third of the world’s flowers. That’s more than two billion flowers exported annually.
Next to this large industry, there’s also the touristic benefit of the famous tulips. Many people are coming to The Netherlands to see tulips grow in the large flower fields, which you’ll find in many parts of the country.
In The Netherlands, a big part of the country known as flowers and bulb region (in Dutch we say: bloemen & bollenstreek). Roughly this is is the western part of the area. Between The Hague, all the way up to the Noordoostpolder in the province Flevoland. The most famous area is the part between Amsterdam and The Hague, where Keukenhof is located.
Keukenhof is the world’s largest flower garden. Every year they plant over 7 million flower bulbs, with over 800 different tulip variations. These bulbs are a gift from the industry growers, to show their ‘living catalog’ to the world.
Every year the bulbs are planted in different patterns. Keukenhof changes its theme every year.
Keukenhof opens only during the blooming period of the flowers between April and March, for around eight weeks a year. During this period, they receive about 1.5 million visitors from all over the world.
The tulips and other flowers grow for a large part in the flower fields in this region. These massive fields are also a popular attraction to visit. During the blossom period of the flowers, it’s like walking around in a sea of flowers. The bloom period is roughly between April and May.
Millions of tourists find their way to Keukenhof en the flower fields every year. And where Keukenhof is designed to receive millions of visitors in a few weeks, the flower fields aren’t. Every year it is a big news item during this period in The Netherlands. Tourists walk into the flower fields to experience the sea of flowers and make that perfect #flowerfield picture for their Instagram account. Often not aware that they’re destroying the hard work of the growers. They flatten the flowers, and sometimes they even bring viruses on the sole of their shoes, which are threatening for the bulbs.
A few growers even opened particular flower fields where the tourists can walk and take pictures. Because truth be told, walking around the flower fields with the bright colors, and pleasant perfume of the tulips and other flowers is a fantastic experience.
During the blossom period of the flowers and tulips, there are many related events in The Netherlands. The most popular one is the annual Flower Parade (in Dutch: Bloemencorso), which is a parade of floats and trucks showing the flowers in the most beautiful decorations and sculptures.
In the whole region, there are several parades organizes in this period. It is a celebration of the most beautiful flowers in the industry. The parades began after The Netherlands celebrated their freedom after World War II. People wanted to organize more fun things for the community, and the flower parade was one of them.
Tulip Bulbs for dinner
Say what now? You might heart of it, but during World War II, there was a period of starvation. All over Europe, where the Germans occupied the countries, food was scarce, but during the winter of 1944-1945, famine hit The Netherlands.
It was one of the toughest winters in the history of The Netherlands, and a lot of the food supplies went to the German army. The famine was the worst in the western part of the country. This part of the country was a stronghold for the Germans at that time.
The Hunger Winter or Dutch Famine Period (in Dutch; Hongerwinter) cost lives of thousands of citizens. The tulip bulbs and sugarbeets that were still in the ground offer a solution for many people. Growers started to sell their bulbs as food, because they couldn’t sell in export and to help their fellow citizens.
Even doctors provided recipes on how to cook the flower bulbs before eating.
As Dutchies, it is one of the stories we learned from our grandparents when we were younger. It also one of the reasons why, mainly the older generation in The Netherlands who experienced the famine period, are so thrifty with food and provisions. My grandmother had the odd habit of never throwing anything away.
Best time to visit the Flower fields and Keukenhof
You might want to experience the flower fields and Keukenhof for yourself. We recommend doing so! It is a great experience. I was skeptical at first, but after seeing so many colorful flowers in one place, it is just amazing.
The best time to visit The Netherlands for the flower fields and Keukenhof is during the blossom period. This period starts roughly at the end of March and ends at the end of May. To make sure you don’t miss out on the flowers, plan your visit to The Netherlands during the opening weeks of Keukenhof.
By: Léon Kopijn/ madefortravellers.com