The adopted national flower of Holland is the tulip - and rightly so. Yet, the tulip actually came from Turkey! Late in the 16th century, Ogier Ghiselin de Bushecq, a Belgian diplomat in Constantinople (now Istanbul), became so impressed with the city's tulip gardens that he sent some seeds to a friend, Carolus Clusius.
Eventually, Clusius moved to Holland and initiated a botanical garden.
There he experimented with the mysterious bulbs that produced striped, spotted, and wondrous flame-patterned varieties.
The tulip indeed was a rare flower in the 1600s. Almost immediately, it assumed great value. To afford a bed of tulips was a mark of wealth and status. The demand for the bulbs sparked a market investment business for ambitious merchants.
The mania for tulips at this time was so fanatical that some buyers and connoisseurs forfeited their furniture, artworks, horses, and even houses for the precious bulbs.
One tulip fanatic agreed to pay ``...2 loads of wheat, 4 loads of rye, 4 fat oxen, 8 fat pigs, 12 fat sheep, 2 hogshead of wine, 4 barrels of beer, 2 barrels of butter, 1,000 pounds of cheese, a bed, a suit of clothes, and a silver beaker'' - all for one bulb!
Then as quickly as the tulip speculation started, it stopped - when the prices began to fall in 1637. Common sense eventually prevailed, but people the world over are still crazy about tulips.
The early Dutch had a series of tulip exhibitions in the first half of the 1800s to display their superior-quality flowers to European visitors.
The Dutch tulip industry was born when Henrick VanderSchoot came to America to sell the bulbs, and gardeners have been planting tulips around the world ever since then.
Today, Michigan has the Dutch touch. Eight miles from Lake Michigan, the town of Holland offers Old World Netherlands traditions, charm, and thousands of tulips right in the Midwest.
People from around the world flock to Holland, especially at Tulip Festival Time, when more than half a million people jam the city in mid-May. During these colorful days, crowds literally tiptoe through thousands of tulips and flowers lining the city streets, blooming in the parks, and displaying special events.
Festival Time officially opens when the mayor and City Council, decked out in traditional robes, inspect the streets and declare them dirty! Brigades of costumed ``Dutch'' scurry into the streets and begin the traditional street scrubbing. Thereafter, the merchants come out of their shops to scrub the streets each day. Have your own festival
But whether or not you visit Holland's Tulip Time, you can still have your own festival of tulips by extending your own tulip garden show - up to six weeks, if you plant bulbs sequentially.
You need to know all the available bulb types to extend the six-week color parade. Merely follow the Netherlands Flower Bulb Institute Timetable order of flowering:
Species tulips; Single and Double Early; Triumph and Darwin Hybrid; and Late Flowering: double late (peony flowered), lily-flowered, Darwin, cottage, parrot.
Species. The first to break color are the Red, White, and Yellow Emperors, a Fosterana originally discovered on the mountain slopes in the Asiatic desert. Another is the dainty Kaufmanniana, with its long narrow waterlilylike pointed petals, often used in rock gardens.
Early Single and Double. Because the stems are short and the blooms small, the Early Single is good for bedding. A trick is to plant these in front of the later bulbs to gain almost a month of flowering.
Most of the singles are solid colors and show off better in large groups, because the short small heads can hang better together. The Double Earlies have large, wide open flowers with numerous petals like peonies.
Triumph and Darwin Hybrid. With stems up to 30 inches, the Darwin Hybrid is spectacular, with brilliant multicolored flowers - ideal for background plantings.
The magnificent Godushnick's large goblet-shaped flowers are brilliant yellow and spotted red, and framed in pale rose, with the base in deep bluish black. Jewel of Spring reveals sulfur-yellow blooms, with petals edged in red and a green black base.
Another midseason bloomer, ideally in beds or intermingled, is the Triumph, with large goblet blossoms on stately 20-inch stems. Consider Aureola, bright red petals tinged in yellow; Elmus, cherry edged in white; Golden Eddy, brilliant red edged in yellow; and Invasion, orange-red tinged in bright yellow.
Late Tulips. The cottage types produce pastel and deep-colored, egg-shaped blooms on 3-foot stems: Bond Street, wine red; Princess Margaret Rose, golden yellow, striped and edged in orange and red; Smiling Queen, pale rose edged in silvery pink.
The Darwins (not Darwin Hybrids), deeply cupped on 24- to 30-inch stems, are equally striking in solid and bicolor: Aristocrat, purplish violet edged in pure white; Queen of Night, deep luminous velvety maroon.
Lily-flowered tulips have pointed, curved-back petals, and parrots with fringed petals. They hardly even look like tulips.
The Double-late, like peonies, have both bicolored and solid blooms. The Rembrandt, named after the way the famous Dutch painter placed color on his canvas, is cup-shaped, streaked, flushed, striped, splashed, and veined with colors. Magic hides inside bulb
A wonderful transformation takes place when a crusty old bulb turns inside out into a tulip. You cannot judge the flower by its skin! The heart of the bulb hides the bloom from winter.
Cutting a tulip bulb in half reveals the tiny tulip inside. Layers of tissue called bulb scales surround the flower bud, stem, and leaves. The scales supply food for the plant to survive on underground during the winter. The more the scale layers, the bigger and better the bulb.
A tulip is able to clone itself. The basal plate at the bottom of the bulb below the flower shoot can form tiny bulblets that can grow into full-size bulbs. Even though the creation of new varieties needs cross-pollination, every tulip can reproduce copies of itself.
The root section of the bulb sends out roots when they are ready to emerge and grow in the spring.
The outside of the bulb has a scaly, dry shell, called a tunic, to keep the inside of the bulb moist and to protect the shrunken tulip plant packed inside. Plant in fall
Order them now, but the middle of October is good tulip planting time for states on a line north from South Carolina to southern California. Mid-January is ideal for the South.
If you plant too early, the bulbs may send up foliage before winter, especially in the northern regions. By blooming time, the shriveled leaves do not enhance the flower.
Sources of hard-to-get bulbs: Veldheer Tulip Inc., 12755 Quincy and US 31, Holland, MI 49423; phone: (616) 399-1900; C.A. Cruickshank Ltd., 105 Mount Pleasant Rd., Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2M1; J.Messelaar Bulb Co., PO Box 269, Rte. 1A, Ipswich, MA 01938.