February 19, 2011

Happy Birthday, Carolus Clusius

A Flemish guy brought a Turkish flower to the Netherlands—and helped start a craze!

Born on this day in 1526, and also known as Charles de L'Ecluse, Carolus Clusius was a Flemish botanist, which means a scientist who specializes in plants. He studied alpine plants, helped introduce potatoes to Germany, surveyed plants in many parts of Europe, and planted the first “official” tulip bulbs in the Netherlands.

Tulips are colorful, showy flowers that grow from bulbs. They used to grow in North Africa, Southern Europe, and parts of Asia from Iran to China. The Turkish people (who created the Ottoman Empire) cultivated the flowers, and several Europeans brought tulips and tulip cultivation to the attention of the general public.

Clusius planted tulips at the Imperials Botanical Gardens of Vienna (now Austria) in 1573 and later at the Leiden University's garden, in the Netherlands, in 1594. His bulbs lead to two interesting events:

Tulip Mania

Tulips quickly became status symbols, and people so badly wanted bulbs that would grow into one- or two-colored tulips that they began to pay high, higher, and even higher prices for them. Some people stole bulbs out of Clusius's university garden (one thief got away with more than a hundred bulbs!), and some people began to pay their debts with tulip bulbs. Yes, that's right, tulips became a type of money!

How high did the prices rise? Well, at one point, just one tulip bulb might be worth MORE THAN 10 TIMES the amount a skilled craftsman would make IN A YEAR!!!


With the prices climbing so much higher than tulip bulbs are actually worth, an economic 'bubble formed,” and of course there was a collapse in the value placed on tulips—in February of 1637, tulip prices plunged, and tulip mania was over.

By the way, the most popular tulip colors were the two-toned tulips such as the red-and-white tulip shown here. We now know that the reason for the multicolored stripes or “breaking colors” is a virus!

The Netherlands' Association with Tulips

Even though tulips first grew in North Africa and parts of Asia, and were first commercially grown in the Ottoman Empire, they became so well loved in the Netherlands and have been grown so successfully there for so many centuries, most people think of the flowers as a symbol of the Netherlands!

Make origami tulips.... Here's how. 

Even little kids can make handprint tulips. 

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