Tulipa ‘Monsella’

Bryant continues with his series on colours in plants. He writes:

A big thank you to James Gaither (J.G. in S.F.@Flickr) for contributing today’s image of Tulipa ‘Monsella’. Prior to reading The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, the word “tulip” would make me cringe. It’s hard to put my finger on why I disliked them, but it had something to do with how commonplace they are. However, when I look at how Tulipa became so widespread, I feel it is nothing less than extraordinary. It would be a travesty to do a series on colour and not mention the tulip!

Tulipa wild diversity is concentrated in the Tien Shan, Hindu Kush, and Pamir Mountains. In 1554, the first bulbs and seeds were shipped out of their native range to Vienna, where they soon became popular among gardeners. At the time, no flower in Europe demonstrated such highly saturated colours like those found in tulips, and people started to pay higher prices for vibrant varieties. This was the start of what is known as “tulip mania“, which began in 1634 in the Netherlands. Tulip mania is now used as a prime example of an economic bubble, or when the price of an asset (such as a tulip) exceeds its intrinsic value. At the height of tulip mania, a single Tulipa ‘Semper Augustus’ bulb sold for the modern equivalent of roughly 10-15 million dollars! However, this craze didn’t last long, and the end of tulip mania came rather abruptly in February of 1637, when buyers refused to show up to the flower auction in protest of the astronomical prices.

Tulipa ‘Monsella’, pictured above, is not unlike Tulipa ‘Semper Augustus’, as they both demonstrate a two-tone pattern. However the “broken pattern” in the ‘Semper Augustus’ tulip was caused by a virus, whereas modern variegated tulips that are commercially sold today are (almost?) exclusively created through intensive breeding regimes. To think that people valued the different colours of tulips so much that they were willing to pay the same price as what a mansion would cost seems absolutely ludicrous.

The Dutch continue to be one of the leaders in the tulip and cut-flower trade, with many global industry transactions occurring in the fifth largest building in the world in Aalsmeer, Netherlands. The floral industry is a multibillion dollar industry, based on a product whose primary asset is colour. In the words of Michael Pollan, “Flowers are exquisitely useless. They’re this great froth of extravagance in our lives. But that there is a multibillion-dollar trade in these wonderful, useless, beautiful things is kind of great”.

For more information of the tulip trade as well as a look at the industry from the tulip’s perspective I highly recommend you read or watch The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan.

Tulipa 'Monsella'

7 responses to “Tulipa ‘Monsella’”

  1. Earl

    Just another example of why this site is a necessary part of the day. Thanks for the photo and thanks for the information.

  2. Irma in Sweden

    You could have published this on July 4th as it is really fireworks. I agree that tulips can bee consodered mundane but when you take the time to examine them more close up they är marvels

  3. Fiona

    Fascinating, I’ve been looking at colour in fashion and how we relate to it but I hadn’t considered the natural world. Seems to me that flowers have us humans sorted – we’re attracted to them the same as insects through colour and patterning.
    In a way we’re the ultimate pollinators, ensuring the on-going survival of each species.

  4. michael aman

    OK, the color possibilities of tulips is amazing. But am I the only one who is beguiled and intoxicated by their scent?

  5. Tanja

    I have to disagree with the blanket statement that flowers are useless. After all, flowers become fruits, which we or livestock consume.

  6. Bonnie

    I wish I could grow them here in the middle of TX.
    Interesting history, none of which I knew of course. 🙂

  7. elizabeth a airhart

    ti’s a flower and a true beauty after the hard cold winters in the
    north i could not wait for the news the tulips are starting to bloom
    in the parks in new jersey, life savers for this human being
    the past is easy to read and make judgements at least whole
    countries did not lose thier populations by tulip drones passing over
    i live in the usa the tulips are a welcome sight this day bonjour

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