Tulips are a Powerful Drug

Fuse / 10th April, 2014

Tulips have a dark and distant past – for many long forgotten.

semper-augustusTulips are still Vogue – an expression of love, voluptuousness, indulgence, art and fashion and they are just about to fire our imaginations again as Spring awakes from its slumbers.

A member of the sprawling Liliaceae (Lily) family I was hooked several years ago after visiting Chelsea Show and seeing waves of aristocratic blooms. Tulips are available in a plethora of vivid colours & variegated varieties, long and dwarfed stemmed but all broadly defined by the characteristic of the flower head – the choice can and is overwhelming. My garden specimens are about to flower and are ‘sparse’ because tulips really need to be lifted and stored every year for best effect.

What perhaps is not appreciated is the Dutch fondness for tulips predates early cultivation in 10th century in Persia and then upscaling during the Ottoman Empire where they were adored. What followed was an explosion of interest in Holland in the late 1500’s and the Tulip Mania in the early part of the 16th century.

Tulip bulbs became so popular that speculators created a booming market, even a single bulb at the height of the frenzy exchanging hands at a Guilder value equivalent to a the value of a luxury Amsterdam house ! The most particularly prized tulips were dark coloured with stripes and flames on a lighter colour  – which we now know was caused by a virus! Well the virus certainly spread at rampant speed, the most famous tulip of them all was Semper Augustus, which rose at an alarming rate during the 1620’s as the rarity value and crazy demand kept prices heading north. When the crash happened, it of course took hold very quickly as the palpable truth that a bulb – which could and finally had gone rotten had very little value compared to the intrinsic value off day to day life!  So the reality check when it came in 1637 meant fortunes were lost and many  were left bankrupt or with large debts. The debacle engulfed the Dutch economy which was left badly scarred for years afterwards.

Tulipomania was really the first ‘modern’ financial crisis and the ripples have echoed down the ages, other notable scalps and scams along the way including the South Sea Bubble, the Dot.com crisis in the late 1990’s and more recently the banking meltdown, rogues like Bernhard Madoff (ponzi’s scheme) and the latest BitCoin saga – all are testimony to the view that nearly four centuries on we still suffer from the same ill disciplines, where ‘niche groups’  can have damning consequences for the many.

Michael Douglas (as Gekko) in Wall Street punches home a famous and brilliantly telling observation about Mankind:

‘Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind’

But Avarice unconnected with reality is really much more dangerous.

So, I hope over Easter when you purchase a bunch of tulips you will reflect on their very rich pedigree…

Posted by: Fawkes