The tulip is beloved for its gracefully cupped, jewel-toned petals, but did you know that the flower has a colorful history to match? Noted British gardening writer Anna Pavord visits Martha's studio to discuss her book, "The Tulip," in which she explains how the tulip made its way from Asia to Europe and the New World -- and precipitated the rise of a frenzied futures market along the way.
Tulips originated in central Asia and were prized by the Ottoman sultans in Turkey. "Lale" (lah-lay) is the Turkish term for the flower; the European word "tulip" is derived instead from the Turkish word for turban. Anna hypothesizes that confusion arose when the word was translated because members of the Turkish court commonly tucked a single tulip into their turbans.
A botanist brought tulips to the Netherlands in 1593, and by the early seventeenth century, they had become status symbols among the wealthy. The most prized tulips were broken -- "flamed" or "feathered" -- in color. Flames are the broad licks of contrasting color that rise up petals' centers, while feathers are the licks of contrasting color that border the top of the flower. (It was discovered in the twentieth century that these striking effects were the result of an aphid-borne virus.)
As demand for tulips rose in the Netherlands, the bulbs acquired great value; futures on them were traded for enormous amounts of money and even property between 1634 and 1637, during a period now referred to as "Tulipmania" or "Tulipomania." The most prized variety, 'Semper Augustus,' had red and white stripes and traded for 10,000 florins at a time when the average annual income was 150 florins. People traded whole houses for handfuls of bulbs. The tulip market eventually crashed, but Dutch fascination with the tulip has endured, and today, the country is the world's largest commercial exporter of the flower.
Below is a glossary of the five shapes in which tulips grow, as well as a list of the varieties that Anna admired at Martha's studio. For more fascinating facts about the tulips, as well as more than 150 color plates of tulip art and artifacts, read Anna's comprehensive book.
The full heads of double tulips resemble peonies; may bloom early or late.
The edges of this tulip's petals appear to have been finely cut; bloom mid- to late-season.
The pointed petals of this late-blooming variety resemble lilies.
Brilliantly colored petals that are feathered and scalloped characterize this mid- to late-season tulip.
The classic tulip shape; may bloom early or late. Some fall into specialty classes, such as Triumphs and Darwins.
Yellow-edged red single tulip
Yellow double tulip
Pink-and-white lily-flowered tulip
Pink-and-white double tulip
Deep purple parrot tulip
Red single tulip
Deep pink single tulip
Purple double tulip
Parrot tulip with fringed, white-flamed red blooms
Yellow and burgundy lily-flowered tulip
White French (long-stemmed) tulip
Single pink tulip
Purple French (long-stemmed) tulip
Learn more about Anna Pavord's book, "The Tulip."