“Broken” Tulips

5 04 2009

From the Mount Holyoke College Botanic Garden web site:

In Holland in the late 1500s and early 1600s, the popularity of tulips steadily increased. The arrival of Carolus Clusius at Leiden University was one factor that helped to boost the popularity of the tulip. Another factor was that the allure of tulips was hard to resist. The beautiful tulips with fantastic colors seemed to magically rise from the earth after the depths of winter had passed. Dutch plant lovers and flower enthusiasts eagerly purchased any available seeds or bulbs offered for sale. Flowers with stripes or streaks were especially popular. These “broken” tulips were highly prized by bulb owners. Although the Dutch didn’t know it at the time, these striped flowers were produced when a tulip bulb became infected with the Mosaic virus. It wasn’t until the early 1920s that scientists were able to determine that the Mosaic virus was spread by aphids, and that infection with the virus caused tulip bulbs to produce the flame-like striping on the petals.

Today, you’ll find hybrids that are genetically stable and duplicate the famous bi-color, broken stripe look. Learn more about rectified or “broken” Tulips here.

And if you want to learn about “Tulipmania”—the Dutch Tulip Craze of 1636-37—read Anna Pavord’s wonderful book, The Tulip: The Story of the Flower That Has Made Men Mad, or Mike Dash’s Tulipmania: The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused. (Don’t ask. Okay. Yes, I’ve read them both. I’m sure you’re not surprised.)

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.