The History of the Tulip- A Symbol of Wealth

The Tulip is a stunning flower with a long and interesting history. Thought by many to have originated in the Netherlands, the flower was initially seen in the middle east in countries like Afghanistan and Kazakhstan. Here, we delve into the history of the tulip from its humble beginnings to the fan favourite it has become. 

The Origin of the Tulip 

Originally a wildflower found in the middle east, it was firth cultivated in Turkey as early as 1000AD. During the time of the Ottoman Empire, the sultan demanded the cultivation of Tulips for his own pleasure. Sultans then placed the flowers in their turbans to finish off their outfits. Because of this, and their appearance, the flowers were named after the Persian word Tulipan which was translated to Turban. 

Due to tulips becoming a symbol of wealth and power, tulips became extremely popular throughout the country and the early 18th Century was classed as the Tulip Era or Age of the Tulips. These flowers, however, were under strict protection. Although tulip festivals were held, it was punishable by exile to be caught selling or buying tulips outside of the Turkish capital. 

In the 16th Century, Constantinople (now known as Istanbul) was one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The city boasted some of the most beautiful gardens which people came to admire. Each year, when the tulip flowers were in bloom, a party was held by the Sultan. 

Tulips were handed out to his closest acquaintances as a symbol of power and wealth.  The Vienesse ambassador, de Busbecq was lucky enough to receive tulips. He went on to send it to his friend Carolus Clusis, who was a biologist in Vienna at the time and managed the gardens of the Emperor of Austria. He later became the director of the Hortus Batinicus in Leiden (the Netherlands) which was the oldest botanical in Europe. This led to the introduction of tulips to a brand new continent. 

Arriving in Europe  

Carolus Clusis wrote a book on tulips in 1592 and as fascination and popularity grew about the flower, people were determined to get their hands on them. This ended with people raiding Clusis’ garden on a regular basis. Not only did the flowers themselves become popular, paintings and ceramics which depicted the flower also rose in popularity.  


Tulips remained a symbol of power and status, so middle and upper classes sought these flowers for their own gardens. Some even placed mirrors in their garden to create the illusion that they owned more tulips than they actually did. 

In the mid 17th century, this growing fascination let to people buying bulbs at such an expensive price, single bulbs were sometimes sold for more than the average cost of a canal house.  

Once people came to their senses, the bubble inevitably burst, leaving many people with nothing! 


Over the years, hybrids were formed which were deemed rare and fetched a large price during tulipmania. However, it was later discovered that the frilly petals and flamed patterns on the leaves that made them so desirable were caused by an infection. Healthy tulips are meant to be a single colour and smooth in texture. Although these diseased versions are no longer sold, hybrids that are genetically stable were created to provide these beautiful colours and interesting frilly leaves that people loved. 

Tulips Today 

Today Holland remains synonymous of these gorgeous blooms and is often referred to as the flower shop of the world. Tulip festivals are held throughout the country in the spring and tulips are cultivated in great fields of stunning colour. As the Dutch started to travel to other countries, tulips were introduced to other areas of the world. For example, many Dutch settlers went to America, in particular New York (which was originally called New Amsterdam) and Holland, Michigan. Both of these locations have strong Dutch connections and a love of tulips remains.

The popularity of the flower is just as strong as it was centuries ago. Fortunately, these graceful, elegant blooms are available for most gardeners to own, making impressive displays in their gardens for years to come. 

Discover more about the history and wonders of tulips in our article on interesting tulip facts.

If you need any help with bulbs and gardening advice, then please contact us. Boston Bulbs Wholesale is a privately owned business with over 35 years’ experience of importing only the finest quality horticultural products through Europe and from farms and growers over the UK. Whether you’re a landscaper, nursery, local authority, wholesale, retailer, private business or individual gardener, give us a call on 01775 769 333 or visit for help with flower bulbs, grass seed and more.  

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