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Tiptoe through the history of the tulip
on April 11, 2002
Many gardeners may believe that the Dutch "created" the tulip, or that, at the very least, it was native to the region. The truth is, as we can learn from Mike Dash, that botanists introduced tulips to the Dutch after discovering them growing wild in the valleys and oases of the Pamir Mountains in Russia and the Tien Shan that border China. Out of these harsh mountains in Asia, tulips flourished and were held in high esteem by the Ottoman's and are considered sacred in the religion of Islam. By the 16th century, tulips were already being cultivated in Turkish gardens, and in the 1530s, it is rumored, Lopo Vaz de Sampayo brought the tulip to Western Europe for the first time. Over the span of another hundred years of discovery and cultivation, the tulips we know today as "Dutch" tulips were being sought after with vigor. Beautiful varieties (created, in part, by a mosaic virus) were being bought for a small fortune - and the most rare bulbs could command sums of several years' salary. More a book of incredible sociological and economic history than botanical information, Dash gives an interesting glimpse of the importance of taverns to the tulip trade and explains with detail that tulip mania is one of the earliest cases of futures trading. Although Dash's writing is occasionally repetitive, his study is a quick, easy and interesting read that can be enjoyed by anyone interested in the history of the Netherlands in the 17th century, gardening, economy or sociology.