Thursday, March 25, 2010

Stories About Tulips in Holland

A theft lies behind the rise of the tulip in Holland. One of the recipients of the first tulips to arrive in Europe was Carolus Clusius, a cosmopolitan plantsman who played a seminal role in the distribution of newly discovered plants through Europe…..The tulips came into Clusius’s hands because he was director of the Imperial Botanical Garden in Vienna. ….
According to Anna Pavord’s history of the tulip, the flower was already growing, with little fanfare, in at least one Leiden garden by the time of Clusius’s arrival. But Clusius was so ostentatiously possessive of his rare tulips that he made the Dutch covet them, with disastrous consequences for his collection. In the words of one contemporary account, “No one could procure them, not even for money. So plans were made by which the best and most of his plants were stolen by night whereupon he lost courage and the desire to continue their cultivation; but those who had stolen the tulips lost no time in increasing them by sowing the seeds, and by this means the seventeen provinces were well stocked.”…

When the tulip first arrived in Europe, people set about fashioning some utilitarian purpose for it. The Germans boiled and sugared the bulbs and, unconvincingly, declared them a delicacy; the English tried serving them up with oil and vinegar, Pharmacists proposed the tulip as a remedy for flatulence. None of these uses caught on, however. …The tulip was a thing of beauty, no more, no less.
…the particular character of the tulip’s beauty made it a good match for the Dutch temperamente. Gnerally, bereft of scent, the tulip is the coolest of floral characters. In fact, the Dutch counted the tulip’s lack of scent as a virtue, a proof of the flower’s chasteness and moderation. Petals curving inward to hide its sexual organs, the tulip is an introvert among flowers.

Open tulip in City Island. Picture by Alejandro Duarte. Reproduced with permission.

The Queen of Night…is as close to black as a flower gets. Its hue is so dark, however, that it appears to draw more light into itself than it reflects, a kind of floral black hole. In the garden, depending on the angle of the sun, the blossoms of a Queen of Night may read as positive or negative space, as flowers or shadows of a flower.
…But why a black tulip? Perhaps because the color black is so rare in nature (or at least in living nature), and tulipomania was nothing if not a vast and precarious edifice poised on the finest points of botanical rarity.
A second story is told, this one possibly true, about a black tulip discovered by a poor shoemaker at the height of the madness. In the version that Zbigniew Herbert tells, five gentlemen from the union of florists in Haarlem, all dressed in black, pay a visit to the shoemaker, professing to do him a good turn by offering to buy this tulip bulb. The shoemaker, sensing their avarice, begins to bargain in earnest, and after much haggling the two parties settle on a price for the bulb: 1,500 florins, a sum that to the shoemaker is a windfall. The bulb changes hands.
“Now something unexpected happened,” Herbert writes, “something that in drama is called a turning point.” The florists throw the precious bulb to the ground and stomp it to a pulp. “You idiot!” they shouted at the stupefied shoe patcher, “we also have a bulb of the black tulip. Besides us, no one else in the world! No king, no emperor, no sultan. If you had asked ten thousand florins for your bulb and a couple of horses on top of it, we would have paid without a word. And remember this. Good fortune won’t smile on you a second time in your entire life, because you are a blockhead.” The shoemaker, devastated, staggers to his bed in the attic and dies.

From the Botany of Desire. By Michael Pollan. Chapter The Tulip. New York, 2001


  1. me encantan los tulipanes, lastima que viva en un lugar muy caluroso. son las flores mas hermosas, para mí.

  2. Estimado anónimo, para que no sufras, considerá que yo sólo los ví un par de veces en mi vida, y los tomo como una obra de arte. Cada año, para el día de la madre en California (en mayo!) traen tulipanes a un supermercado de Huntington Beach, estuve pensando si este año no me daría el gusto de auto regalarme uno, si es que los vuelven a traer.
    Gracias por el comentario, saludos

  3. Siempre me gustaron los tulipanes, compre mi 1ra. camara semi-pro con ese proposito, el de fotografiar los Tulipanes, generalmente en esta epoca, por sus colores, sus formas, etc...ah! y ahora tu post y yo creo que este año los tulipanes van a volver a Huntington Beach, seguro que si

  4. Vamos a ver amigo! Podés creer que no había reconocido al tulipán en tu foto porque nunca ví uno abierto? Gracias por dejarme reproducir esta maravilla de la naturaleza! Tengo otro post más de tulipanes. Y luego iré por las rosas, mis favoritas.


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