June 1, 2006 Of the 1,700 varieties of tulips, about 80 percent come from Holland, which exports more than $700 million's worth of tulips per year. Tulip bulbs take up to five years to fully form, and require cold winters and dry summers such as Holland's. But with some care, the bulbs you buy and plant will be easy to grow.
HILLEGOM, The Netherlands--When you think of Holland, you probably think of tulips. They're bright, bold and beautiful! Learn what it takes to grow tulips like these, but do you ever wonder how these unique flowers are created? We traveled all the way to the tulip capital of the world to find out.
Red, pink, yellow, orange and purple. Tulips come in all colors, shapes and sizes. There are about 1,700 varieties of tulips, and about 80 percent of them come from the Netherlands.
"We have 400 years of experience, and the growing conditions are, here in our country, more or less optimal," Jos Eijking, a horticulture engineer at The International Flower Bulb Center in Hillegom, the Netherlands, tells DBIS.
Cold winters and dry summers are key. And though the science behind the beauties at Keukenhof Gardens near Lisse, Holland, is simple, it takes time.
First, horticulture engineers harvest seeds for one year in a special room then put them outside for another year. It takes three more years in the field before a bulb is formed. If you wanted to create a new species of tulips from one seed, it would take you about 20 years to do it, because the only way to get more bulbs is to wait for a mother bulb to produce daughter bulbs.
"It is like an oil tanker. When you want to change direction, you've got to do it now, and then you see the results in five years," says Arie Deterse, a Dutch horticulture breeder.
Luckily, experts grow the bulbs -- not you. Consumers can simply buy them at the store and plant them.
Eijking says, "Then they will grow easily because you plant already a tulip plant with nutrition, so there is no need to add anything else."
For best results, plant your bulbs in the fall. If you live in a warm climate, store them in the fridge for about 10 weeks during winter. Space bulbs four inches apart and six inches deep. Choose an area with good drainage. Also, be prepared for the unexpected!
"In your head, you've got some imagination of what's going to come out, and then nature always surprises you," Deterse says. If you're lucky, nature will surprise you with flowers that look like as good as the experts'!
Holland grows up to 25,000 tulips each year. The country exports more than $700 million worth of flower bulbs.
BACKGROUND: Holland (the Netherlands) is famous for its tulips. Some researchers are asking what the United States can learn from the Dutch about the ideal conditions for this flower to flourish.
WHAT ARE TULIPS? Tulip is a genus that encompasses some 100 species of flowering plants within the botanical family Liliaceae. Although the cultivated varieties are associated with Holland, tulips are also native to southern Europe, north Africa and Asia. In fact, the tulip is the national flower of Iran and Turkey. Tulips are perennial bulbous plants, instantly recognizable by their large flowers with six petals (called "tepals").
HOW THEY'RE GROWN: Numerous so-called "cultivars" have been developed for use in gardens to grow specific varieties of tulip. They can be grown through genetic clones (called "offsets") or through seeds, but the only way to breed a specific cultivar of tulip is through offsets. With seeds, the mixing of genes between parent tulips is too unpredictable. A flower grown from a seed will usually only bear a slight resemblance to the flower from which the seeds were taken. That's why there is such great variety among tulips grown in the wild. Tulips require a cold winter to flourish, although cultivators can force the plants to flower earlier than normal by manipulating the temperatures in a greenhouse, for example. Growing tulips also requires patience: offsets take at least a year before they are mature enough to flower, while a tulip grown from seed will not flower until five to seven years after planting.
TULIP MANIA: Tulips became so popular in the 17th century that they were considered a form of currency, and were traded on the stock exchanges of numerous Dutch towns and cities. Tulip bulbs were exchanged for land, valuable livestock, even houses. By 1623, a single bulb of a rare variety could cost as much as a thousand Dutch florins, at a time when the average yearly income was 150 florins. Demand for the bulbs became so strong that 40 bulbs sold for 100,000 florins in 1635. The bubble burst in 1637, and thousands of Dutch were financially ruined. "Tulip mania" is a term now used to describe any large economic bubble that cannot be sustained.