Most people are familiar with the genus Tulipa, it having a similar renown to genera like Rosa. Tulipa is in the Liliaceae family and contains 75 species which are distributed across Eurasia and North Africa. Tulips tend to have similar forms: A scape rises from a few basal leaves and terminates in a flower. The flower has the three petals, three sepals, and six anthers typical of Liliaceae. The petals and sepals fall after pollination, leaving the ovary which swells into a fruit.
Plants have always formed relationships with humans. They are useful for food, medicine, and horticulture. Throughout history, no plant has been held in such high esteem for its looks as the tulip. A quote from Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire sums up how the tulip was revered in the Middle East during the 15th century:
“Each spring for a period of weeks the imperial gardens were filled with prize tulips (Turkish, Dutch, Iranian), all of them shown to their best advantage. Tulips whose petals had flexed wide were held shut with fine threads hand-tied. Most of the bulbs had been grown in place, but these were supplemented by thousands of cut stems held in glass bottles; the scale of the display was further compounded by mirrors placed strategically around the garden. Each variety was marked with a label made from silver filigree. In place of every fourth flower a candle, its wick trimmed to tulip height, was set into the ground. Songbirds in gilded cages supplied the music, and hundreds of giant tortoises carrying candles on their backs lumbered through the gardens, further illuminating the display. All the guests were required to dress in colors that flattered those of the tulips. At the appointed moment a cannon sounded, the doors to the harem were flung open, and the sultan’s mistresses stepped into the garden led by eunuchs bearing torches. The whole scene was repeated every night for as long as the tulips were in bloom, for as long as Sultan Ahmed managed to cling to his throne.”
Early on in the 15th century, the tulip gained popularity in Europe. In Holland, particularly, the price of tulips began to rise exponentially. Many factors caused the price inflation but the main one was simply the perception of the tulip as a rare and beautiful flower, when it became apparent a tulips were far more common than first thought the crash begun. The tulips which, people had literally traded houses for became almost worthless overnight. Incredibly, the Dutch government still has laws on plant prices to prevent this happening again. I recommend reading The Botany of Desire if you want to know more about this. I have included a graph showing the price of tulips during the three years of tulipomania.
It was the tulip that really made Holland become the home of the bulb and cut flower industry, cementing the high reputation of its incredible flower markets, which still operate successfully today.
In the garden, we have a large number of wild-collected T. agenensis bulbs, one of the native tulips of Israel. These were saved from a construction site where the population would have been destroyed. The hope is to display these in the garden, but sadly the local porcupines (Hystrix indica) enjoy having them for dinner. In an attempt to protect the bulbs and replicate their natural rocky habitats, some rockeries were built to house the bulbs. The tulips were lifted while in growth, so most didn’t flower this year. Next year they should provide an impressive display. Below are some photos of the building and completion of the rockery. Hopefully, it is successful in protecting the bulbs and more geophytes can be planted in the garden.