The Tulip is a member of the Lily (Liliaceae) family of flowering plants. They are perennial bulbous plants growing to 4–27 in. in height, with a small number of strap-shaped, waxy-textured, green leaves and large flowers with six petals. They are one of the most recognizable inhabitants of the Conservatory Garden and come in a wide variety of brilliant colors.
Although tulips are associated with Holland, both the flower and its name originated in the Persian Empire. The tulip is actually not a Dutch flower at all as many people mistakenly believe. Tulips were originally introduced to Europe in the 16th century.
The word tulip, which earlier in English appeared in such forms as tulipa or tulipant, came to us by way of French tulipe and its obsolete form tulipan or by way of Modern Latin tul?pa, from Ottoman Turkish tülbend, “muslin, gauze.” (The English word turban, first recorded in English in the 16th century, can also be traced to Ottoman Turkish tülbend. Who knew.)
While Tulips are known the world over for their poised beauty they are also infamous for being the cause of one of the first known stock exchange disasters. Between 1623 and 1637, the early enthusiasm for the new flowers triggered a speculative frenzy now known as the tulip mania and tulip bulbs were then considered a form of currency. In 1623, a single bulb of a famous tulip variety could cost as much as a thousand Dutch florins (the average yearly income at the time was 150 florins). Tulips were also exchanged for land, valuable livestock, and houses. Allegedly, a good trader could earn six thousand florins a month. By 1635, a sale of 40 bulbs for 100,000 florins was recorded. By way of comparison, a ton of butter cost around 100 florins and “eight fat swine” 240 florins. A record was the sale of the most famous bulb, the Semper Augustus, for 6,000 florins in Haarlem.
In February 1637 tulip traders could no longer get inflated prices for their bulbs, and they began to sell. The bubble, as they say, burst. People began to suspect that the demand for tulips could not last, and as this spread a panic developed. Some were left holding contracts to purchase tulips at prices now ten times greater than those on the open market, while others found themselves in possession of bulbs now worth a fraction of the price they had paid. Allegedly, thousands of Dutch, including businessmen and dignitaries, were financially ruined.
It would seem fitting than that this extraordinarily beautiful flower find a new life in New York where so many have come to begin anew. There is a second act in the Conservatory Garden.
One of the hidden wonders of Central Park is the Conservatory Garden at Fifth Avenue and 105th St. A secluded oasis, just a few steps down from one of the City’s busiest thoroughfares; the garden offers a fragrant respite from the gasp and clatter of the urban afternoon.