Nearly a billion springflowering bulbs from Holland were planted stateside last fall, yet the Dutch still have to keep up with further demand for the sometimes temperamental tulips. Gardeners who covet the colorful blossoms anticipate new hybrids that sometimes require ten years to pass from first bloom to mass catalog. Additionally, bulbs can't be stockpiled like grain; a poor harvest can mean a loss for the year.
Americans aren't the only victims of "tulipomania." One Dutchman of old is reputed to have traded two loads of wheat, four loads of rye, four fat oxen, eight fat swine, 12 fat sheep, two hogsheads of wine, four barrels of beer, two barrels of butter, 1,000 pounds of cheese, one suit of clothes, one silver tankard, and his bed in return for the rights to a special single bulb! The tulip, it seems, has a history as colorful as its blossoms.
A 16th-century Flemish botanist, serving as imperial gardener in Vienna, was given a collection of tulips by the Austrian ambassador to the court of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The ambassador had obtained the "for a price" when on a peace mission to the Turks. When the botanist moved to Holland, bulbs in hand, he dazzled his Dutch neighbors with his treasure. But would-be buyers were so put off by his asking price that they took to stealing his bulbs in the middle of the night. Quickly propagated, they were distributed throughout Holland: the Dutch bulb business was born.
Then came the "breaks," which soon nearly wrecked Holland's economy. Breaks are striped tulips that occasionally turn up. Scientists didn't learn until early this century that a virus spread by aphids is responsible. The virus inserts its own genetic code into the chromosome that controls the tulip's color. If infected plants are not destroyed, the entire bulb field will die after a few years.
"Tulipomania spread as every Dutch plot owner began growing tulips in hopes of discovering a mutation. Those who could afford it bought "futures" in tulips. Those who couldn't raised money by pawning jewels and mortgaging their houses and their businesses. At the peak of the excitement, a collection of three bulbs is said to have sold for the equivalent of $30,000.
One day in the spring of 1637, the bulb traders panicked and began dumping bulbs on the exchange. The game was over. The market crashed, and the government restored order by forbidding further speculation. Serious growers continued to develop the industry, now primarily family owned and operated.
Today, 60 percent of the world's flowering bulbs are cultivated in Holland. The old-style tulips have given way to hybrids that barely resemble the early flowers, which were small and colorful with lily-like pointed blooms. But the Dutch still maintain a living museum of these older species at the Hortus Bulborum in Heiloo, near the town of Limmen. The historic tulips, carefully tended in separate small beds, hold the genetic keys to improving the stamina and disease resistance of modern hybrids.
In the town of Wageningen, the Institute for Horticultural Plant Breeding is just one place where specialists conjure new combinations from old varieties. Decades can go into producing a single hybrid. A bright red tulip-the most popular variety-was one hybridizer's first marketable hybrid flower, the result of 25 years of labor.
To produce a new hybrid, the grower first selects the parents: good producers with unique colors or patterns. Next he removes the male parts ftom the female parent to prevent selfpollination. Finally, when the female stigma ripens, he gently brushes pollen from the father onto it. In four months up to 300 seeds can be harvested from the pod that forms. But this is only the beginning.
The seeds, once sown, produce grasslike seedlings that require five years to produce their first flowers. The hybridizer then carefully and rigorously tests the new variety before submitting it to the Royal General Bulbgrowers' Association for approval and listing in the international register of tulips. By this time, ten years may have passed.
It may take another ten years to produce enough bulbs to satisfy consumer demand. Some new hybrids remain in short supply. Right now the Dutch can't produce enough of the Garden Club of America tulip for American demand. But plenty will be available in three to five years.
Those are the breaks. .........Tulip Tips--------
* Buy large, firm bulbs with no deep scars. In warm climates, buy prechilled bulbs, or chill them in the refrigerator eight to ten weeks before planting. (Don't store them with fruit. The ripening produces ethylene, which will cause flow" abortion.)
* For color impact, plant bulbs en masse-not in thin rows.
* Choose varieties that will provide a sequence of blooms through the spring months.
* Plant during September/October in the North; November/December in the South.
* Good drainage is essential.
* Sunlight is important, but flowers will last longer if they don't receive the sun at midday.
* Improve the soil by adding wellrotted compost and a slow-release granular fertilizer with a 9-9-6 or equivalent ratio. Water fertilizer into the soil.
* Plant the bulbs, pointed tips facing up, about eight inches deep.
* Water until the ground freezes; then mulch with three inches of salt hay or a decorative mulch. When bulbs peek through in the spring ,leave the mulch and continue watering.
* Remove the flowers before they go to seed.
* Let foliage turn completely brown.
* Instead of digging up the bulbs after flowering, and replanting in the fall, it's easier to just add new bulbs.
* Besides adding color to your flower garden, try enlivening the landscape by planting bulbs around trees and edging a patio, deck, or walkway.
Remember, no one has ever been put away for "tulipomania."
New Tulips Coming Up
New hybrid tulips reach America from Holland every year. Past favorites have been "Shirley," an ivory white Triumph tulip with purple around the edges, and "Make up," a creamy white Triumph "flamed" red tulip.
Off-white and pastel hues have become favorites of American gardeners-a reversal from previous years, when tastes ran to bright reds and oranges.
Recent imports include:
"Arabian Mystery"-a Triumph tulip with deep purple flowers and white edging that blooms at the end of April In the North.
"Ballerina"-a pleasantly fragranced orangy lily-flowering tulip that flowers early.
"Medicine Garden"-a reddish, pink Crispa (saw-toothed edges) that blooms late.
"New Design"-a Triumph tulip, pink and white with a slight green tinge. The leaves have a greenishyellow stripe similar to perennial Hosta "New Design" blooms early.
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|Title Annotation:||tulips from Holland|
|Publication:||Saturday Evening Post|
|Date:||May 1, 1989|
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