Tulips, the ephemeral flowers of spring, belong to the family Liliaceae. The same family also includes onions (Allium cepa). Quite a contrast, isn't it? Thinking tulip, by association, brings to mind the long, colorful rows of the flowers and windmills in Holland. The Dutch had evidently gained mastery over growing these beautiful flowers long ago. However, in Hortus Nitidissmiss, a florilegia from 1700s, Christoph Jacob Trew traces the origin of this flower to Turkey. He points out the resemblance of tulips to the Turkish hats, their local name aptly being 'Tulipant' and 'Turbant'. Tulips were popular flowers in the city gardens of Sultan Suleyman I the Magnificient, who came to throne of Ottoman empire in 1520. The plant was introduced to Europe in the 16th century. Although Trew ackowledges that it was Conrad Gesner (1516-65) who reported a red tulip growing in a garden of Johannis Heinrich Herwart in Augsburg, Bavaria (1557), he believes that tulips were known in Germany before Gesner's time. His records show that the Flemish ambassador Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq (1520-1592), who represented the Hasburg emperor, Ferdinand I and was also an avid herbalist, sent Turkish tulips to Carolus Clusius (1526-1609) who later laid the foundation for the Dutch tulip industry.

Like orchids, tulips too came to command high prices and became a status symbol for aristocacy. In fact, the craze for tulip trade came to such heights in Holland that future markets developed and prior payments were made in installments during the time the bulbs would be lifted in summer and planted in mid autumn. In the meantime, speculaters 'bought and sold' the bulbs. The trade flourished to an extent that in 1636 tulips were traded on the London exchange. The growing trade bubble attracted people from all levels of society to participate. The prices soared so high that a single bulb of the covetted variety 'Viceroy' was said to have fetched about 3500 guilders/florins. For a point of reference, consider this: at the time average annual income was 150 florins and a top-notch house costed 5000 florins. In February 1637, this bubble finally burst and many people went broke. It took a number of years for people to recover from this event. This was such a remarkable phenomenon that a term 'Tulipomania' was coined for any such large economic bubble.

There are about 100 species of the genus Tulipa and more than 4000 varieties. The plants grow well in temperate Europe, the Middle East and particularly Central Asia. The plants are categorised based on the time of their bloom. There are 15 such divisions. Division 1 or the Single Early group comprises of single cup shaped flowers that bloom in early to mid spring and include varieites-'Apricot Beauty' and 'Yokohama'. Division 2/ Double Early Group has double, bowl shaped flowers with margins or flecks of a different colors. These varieties are - 'Abba', 'Kareol', 'Monte Carlo', 'Oranje Nassau' and 'Peach Blossom'. Division 3/ Triumph Group includes flowers that are single, cup shaped and blossom from mid- to late spring. The varieties are: 'Attila', 'Golden Melody', 'Lustige Witwe', 'Negrita', 'New Design', 'Prinses Irene', 'Shirley' and 'Striped Bellona'. Division 4 / Darwin Hybrid Group are tall stemmed, single, oval flowered plants that are well suited as cut flowers. The varieties for this division include: 'Apledoorn', 'Apeldoorn Elite', 'Beauty of Appledoorn, 'Gordon Cooper' and 'Yellow Apeldoorn.

Division 5/ Single Late Group include cup or goblet shaped flowers that bloom in late spring and sometimes may be more than one per stem. Varieties include 'Esther', 'Ile de France', 'Paul Scherer', 'Queen of Night' and 'Swan wings'. Division 6/Lily-Flowered Group includes flowers with ponted and backwards curved petals. The plants flower late. The varieties include: 'Ballerina', 'Mona Lisa', 'Pieter de Leur', 'West Point' and 'White Triumphator'. Division 7/ Fringer Group include cup shaped flowers with fringed petal margins. Varieties are: ' Blue Heron' and 'Hamilton'. Division 8 / Viridiflora Group includes flowers that have a variable amounts green color and include the variety 'Spring Green'.

Division 9 / Rembrandt Group flowers late in spring and is conspicuous because the white, yellow or red flowers show black, brown, bronze or purple stripes. These feathered or fringed tulips, called as the Broken Tulips ('broken' as there was a break in the color) are considered the major impetus for Tulipomania. First described by Carolus Clusius, this break in the color is known to be caused by a viral infection (pathogen is a potyvirus) which ultimately damage the bulbs. Because these are diseased plants, the original Rembrandt varieties are no longer grown commercially. Incidentally, Rembrandt who was staying in Holland at the time of Tulipomania and after whom the varieties were named is not known to have painted these flowers although many other Dutch masters did paint these doomed flowers. The popularity of the Rembrendt group resulted in development of virus-free varieties that mimic the Rembrandt group flowers.

Division 10/ Parrot Group include flamboyant cup shaped flowers with twisted and irregularly cut and varioulsy striped petals. These are late spring flowers and the varieties included are: 'Apricot Parrot', 'Black Parrot', 'Blue Parrot' and 'Fantasy'.

Division 11/ Double Late Group include fully double, bowl shaped flowers whose petals show additional colors on the margins. Varieties include: 'Angelique', Montreux', 'Peaches and Cream', 'Tacoma' and 'Wirosa'. Division 12/Kaufmanniana Group include T. kaufamanniana and its hybrids. The plants are native to Central Asia and flower in early or mid spring. The flowers often are bicolored and sometimes show spotting in brown or bronze. The varieties include 'Chopin', 'Heart's delight', 'Shakespeare' and 'Stresa'.

Division 13/ Fosteriana Group includes the species T. fosteriana and its hybrids (crosses with species T. kaufmanniana or T. greigii). Varieties include: 'Concerto', 'Madam Lefeber' and 'Orange Emperor'. Division 14/ Greigii Group includes the species T. greigii and its hybrids. The single bowl shaped flowers bloom in early to mid spring and the varieties included are: 'Cape Cod', 'Pinocchio', 'Plaisir', 'Quebec, 'Red Riding Hood', and 'Toronto'. Divsion 15/Miscellaneous group, of course includes those Tulips that could not be place in the already mentioned 14 divisions. These include: ' clusiana', 'Lady jane', 'Honky Tonk', T. humilis/ Violoacea group, T. kolpakowskiana, 'linifolia', T. linifolia/ Batalinii group 'Bright Gem', 'Little Princess', T. saxatilis, T. saxatilis/ Bakeri group 'Lilac Wonder', T. sylvestris, T. Tarda, 'Tinka', T. turkestanica and T. urumiensis.

Whew!! That was a long list of tulips. The details on growing and maintaining these tulips can be found in "The Gardener's Guide To Bulbs" by Kathy Brown. And as always I will close this post with beautiful words strung together by Ernestine Northover to describe these evanescent flowers.

Tossing turban style contours, with an aloofness as one passes by,

Utilizing every charm it possesses, under a lupin blue cloudless sky,

Like a guardsman, gallantly standing, holding up his noble head high,

In rainbow colours, brilliant and stately, a vision to surely yield a sigh,

Ponder thus upon the regal tulip, it has pure beauty, you cannot deny.

Ernestine Northover