The Truth About Tulips

It is a common misconception that Tulips originate from The Netherlands.  Whilst it is true that, today, tulips are cultivated extensively in The Netherlands, the fact of the matter is that tulips are actually native to the Middle East and, more specifically, Turkey, and were not introduced to the then Holland, until the 16th Century.

Many varieties of Tulipa (the group name for different varieties of Tulip) now growing in European gardens, were growing in Turkey long before, with popularity not really taking hold in Europe until the 17th century, when prices soared, some varieties costing more than the price of a house at the time!  The boom didn’t last long though and over supply led to a “tulip market crash”!

The English word Tulip derives stems from the old Ottoman Turkish word tülbend (in modern Turkish it is called tülbent), which is the same word used for a piece of cloth used as a headscarf or head covering. It is said that the reasoning behind this is because an opened tulip was thought to resemble a turban, the typical headwear of men where the tulips originated from.

Called “Lale” in Turkish, Tulips have long played an interesting and important role in Turkish history and the early 1700s where known as the “Tulip Era”, under the rule of Sultan Ahmed III, or “Lale Devri” in Turkish.

Embroidery, textiles, art and ceramics heavily featured tulip shapes and designs and, indeed, large Tulip gardens could be found all over Istanbul and were kind of a “status symbol” of the time, the gardens often frequented by the more affluent fraction of society. The Tulip Era came to an abrupt end in 1730 when the Sultan was overthrown.

Today, you drink your Turkish tea, or Çay, from a tulip shaped glass and tulips are still a very much celebrated flower of Turkey. In fact, every year since 2006, Istanbul plants millions of tulips in parks, avenues, roundabouts and pretty much anywhere there is a piece of open or unused ground!  The result is a stunningly beautiful flower festival that runs in March/ April of every year, with vibrant colours and shapes in every direction you look!

More recently, and closer to home, a brand new species of tulip has just been discovered near one of the historical sites in Fethiye. The species has been named “fritillaria ozdemir-elmasii”, after the chemist and teacher who discovered it, and has been registered as “haslale” (fine tulip) in Turkish. With this new discovery, the number of species growing in Turkey rises to 44, 21 being endemic to Turkey itself.

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