Although tulips, along with windmills and wooden shoes, are closely associated with Holland, these beautiful cup-shaped flowers are actually indigenous to the mountainous areas of Central Asia and the Middle East, including Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey. In fact, the name “tulip” comes from an Ottoman Turk word meaning “muslin, gauze,” which almost certainly refers to the silky feel of the tulip’s petals. Tulips, which yield only one flower per stem, have been synonymous with beauty in Turkey for centuries and have been a subject of Persian poets since the thirteenth century. It’s easy to see why when you look at pictures of tulips. These vibrantly colored flowers can be found in single colors—often vivid yellow, red, or white—or in variegated, multi-colored forms, such as red or purple on yellow, lavender on white, or pink or red on white. Some even bear licking, flame-like marks.
Tulips have been wildly popular in Western culture, ever since they were introduced in Europe. Without a doubt, the most famous illustration of tulips’ popularity was the brief period of so-called tulip mania in Holland during the Dutch Golden Age (ca. 1634-1637). At this time, tulips had been recently introduced and quickly became important symbols of status—to the point that tulip bulbs were used as currency! At the height of this frenzy, a tulip contract was valued at more than ten times the annual wages of a highly skilled craftsman! Of course, this period of inflated value quickly ended after a few years. (Interestingly, tulip mania is widely considered to be the first “economic bubble.”)
If tulips are no longer considered quite as precious as they were for the few years that constituted tulip mania, they are still among the most popular flowers to give as an expression of love, whether as a potted plant or fresh, cut flowers. Culturally, a gift of tulips communicates a sentiment of “perfect love.” Still, the color of tulips can change that meaning somewhat, so if you’re looking for the perfect bouquet, you’ll want to be mindful of what the various colors mean. Unsurprisingly, red tulips are most closely associated with romantic love. Yellow tulips used to mean unrequited love, but, over the years, they have come to more closely express happiness, sunshine, and warmth. White tulips are often given as an apology to invite forgiveness from a beloved. Finally, multi-color tulips tell your sweetheart that he or she has beautiful eyes.