Intrinsically linked to the windmill as a peanut butter is to jelly, the tulip has long been a staple of the Dutch landscape, and subsequently, of Dutch culture. Farmers here produce approximately nine million of them each year, and given how many of the bright yellow and red bulbs you’ll see lining the window boxes of any stroll through the streets here, they sell most of them locally.
While this is the case today, it wasn’t always—a single bulb once sold for today’s equivalent of seven thousand dollars. Yes, that’s 10,000 florins, which was about the same as seven grand today.
See, tulips were once considered quite an exotic treasure, and one not native to the Netherlands. They first came from present-day Turkey in the 16th-century, when Ottoman merchants brought them. The struggled in the chilly, damp climate, until a Flemish botanist named Carolus Clusius discovered a few tricks to help the tulips prosper here.
They immediately became a status symbol, with only the wealthiest Dutch able to afford them. Businessmen began speculating on the prices of tulips, which altered greatly depending on the quality of a season’s crop, and this mania both made and broke people’s fortunes and livelihoods. The flower gambling bubble eventually burst, like real estate in many places today, and at the same time the Dutch discovered the beauty of other alternatives to the tulips. The market for daffodils, gladioli, hyacinths and irises was born, and the prices for tulips fell to reasonable levels.
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