Spring Fever and Tulip Mania

When you visit the new Muttart Conservatory Up, Up and Away feature pyramid, you may find yourself going a bit “mad” for the beautiful tulips throughout the lofty display.

We’ve known tulips could fascinate people since 1841, when the book Extraordinary Madness and the Delusions of Crowds told the world about Tulip Mania. In this mid-1600s fad, people bought and sold rare tulip bulbs for hundreds of times the average person’s annual income.

Flora’s Wagon of Fools

In a sense, many of today’s fads and even the idea of the economic “bubble” can be traced back to tulip mania… but how did tulip mania begin? Muttart Conservatory Grower Eric Gibson says tulip mania can be traced to Persia.

“Trade brought tulip bulbs to Holland, where the soil and conditions were ideal, and that introduced tulips to people who had never seen them before.”

Once tulips had taken root in the Netherlands, an accident of nature made the already beautiful flowers even more fascinating. The original tulips had petals of a single colour. Multi-coloured tulips first became available because of a virus. The “tulip-breaking virus” created colour streaking and speckling effects in some flowers. Grower James McIvor says, “There’s a huge variety in tulips, with over one hundred species.”

Today, cultivation has changed. Most tulips that look broken are the result of breeding rather than the virus. What hasn’t changed is the technique of “forcing” the bulbs to grow and bloom.

“We create the conditions they would have in a milder climate,” James says. “At about 8o Celcius, roots come out. Then we cool them down, as if they’re going from fall into winter. We take them to about 2o Celcius, and we hold them there. Some varieties can be held longer than others, which is why you have some early varieties and some that bloom later in the year.”

Eric, who chose the tulips for the Up, Up and Away feature pyramid, finds it hard to name a favourite among the blooms… but admits to a special fondness for the parrot tulip.

“You’ll see a whole rainbow in one tulip, with feathered petals. I also like the scent of the hyacinths, which you’ll also find in the feature pyramid.”

The Up, Up and Away pyramid will echo the uplifting feeling of spring with a hot air balloon display and the vivid colours of other spring flowers, such as azaleas.

Visitors to the new feature pyramid should know that they may leave with tulip mania, and they’re certain to catch spring fever.

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About the Author
Gayleen Froese
Gayleen Froese is a Communications Officer with Community Services.
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