National Geographic : 1947 Jul
Turkey and the Tulips THE gardeners of Asia Minor long have favored the tulip, for its culture is ad mirably fitted to their short springs tucked briefly between bleak winters and parched summers. By putting the tulips on a Turkey page there is no intention to imply that the species are all native there, although many are. The fifty or so known wild species are scattered from the Mediterranean region east ward into Asia, and wherever they grow wild they have been brought into cultivation. However, let it be said to the everlasting credit of the early Turkish gardeners that they brought the best collections together, hybrid ized and selected them, and really started the tulip on its way into our gardens. The later trail of these plants is fairly clear. Busbequius, Austrian ambassador at the court of the Sultan of Turkey, there saw and ad mired the tulip and brought seed back with him when he returned to Vienna in 1554. From 1573 to 1587 the Dutch herbalist Clu sius was the court gardener to Maximilian II at Vienna. There this excellent student of things botanical must have come into contact with the plant. Later, Clusius was professor at the University of Leiden (he died in 1609) and it was he who introduced a fine collection and popularized the tulip in Holland. In Holland tulips soon became fashionable, so much so that by the early 1630's they had become the rage. Bidding for bulbs of the newly developed varieties was so spirited that it ended in a period of wild speculation. When the Dutch Government finally clamped down on this foolishness, certain rare bulbs were selling for as much as ten thousand dollars apiece. The worst period of this Dutch "tulip omania" lasted from 1634 to 1637. After the "crash" the growing of tulips settled down and became an honorable horticultural industry. During the recent war it was reported that, because of the food shortage, the Hollanders were reduced to eating tulip bulbs. Unfortu nate as were the circumstances which made this necessary, it did demonstrate what many of us have forgotten-that, like so many others, the tulip originally was valued as a food plant rather than for its flowers. TULIP: The tulips we grow today are of two general classes, the "garden" and "species" tulips. Stated briefly, this means only that the "garden" tulips have been so mixed up by hybridization that plants of this group will not "come true" if raised from seed, whereas the "species" tulips, being somewhat nearer the wild types, will "come true" from seed. The differentiation no longer is completely true, but gardeners still retain this general classifi cation. Tulipa Kaufmanniana and T. Clusi ana (the latter named in honor of Clusius) have long been favorites in the "species class." The "garden" tulips are of various types. Among the earliest-blooming of these are the "Duc van Thol" group, thought perhaps to have been derived mainly from Tulipa suaveo lens. The other types, the graceful "cottage" and stately "Darwin" tulips, are classified as Tulipa Gesneriana,but their real origin seems to be shrouded in the mystery of the various unknown wild forms brought together and hybridized in the early Turkish gardens. The "cottage" group takes its name from the fact that it has been the type popularly grown around European cottages since the introduc tion of the plant. The "Darwins" are more recent developments and were named in honor of Charles Darwin, who, among other things, was an experimenter and hybridizer of plants. "Breeder" tulips also are often offered for sale and by some students of the genus Tulipa are thought to be a distinct group. Histori cally, however, the term "breeder" was applied to a self-color tulip (that is, to a tulip having a single color with no stripes, markings, or marginal frills) and produced directly by hybridization. Also, it is this type which usually is used in further hybridization or breeding. One of the mysteries of tulip cul ture is the fact that, after some years of staid behavior in the garden, a "breeder" some times is likely to "break up" into stripes and variegated markings. For example, the parti colored "Rembrandt" group is no more than a series of "breaks" which have occurred to va rious members of the single-colored "breeders" of the Darwin type. Having once "broken," the plant seems unable to return to the single color "breeder" form. Another form is the bizarre "parrot" type; this is an ordinary tulip of the Gesneriana section with curiously frilled and often multicolored parts. It has been impossible to present anything like a representative sample of the multitude of varieties of "garden" and "species" tulips now offered in the trade. Consequently, we shall not even name the ones shown on the opposite plate; some are old and some are new as next year's catalogue. If you are buying bulbs for your own garden, you will select them by the colored pictures in the catalogues anyway, where the different classes and varie ties will be fully named. The word "tulip" was derived from a word meaning "turban," and that is enough to remind us that the tur baned Turks of centuries ago really started them on the long road to our own gardens.