What Are Rembrandt Tulips?
Bulb catalogs are filled with colorful photos of spring flowers including tulips in myriad sizes and colors. Among the most colorful are the tulips referred to as Rembrandt tulips.
Why are they called Rembrandt tulips?
Many Old Dutch Masters paintings were still-lifes of flowers including bi-color tulips. The bi-color tulips had a base color of red, purple, pink and even brown. Secondary colors of white or yellow appear as streaks or flames on the base colors. Unbeknownst to the Dutch, these broken colors, as they were known, were caused by a virus that was spread by aphids. The colorful tulips became very popular and caused the first recorded speculative bubble known as Tulip Mania.
What was Tulip Mania?
Tulips originated in Asia and were brought to Europe during the 16th century. By the 17th century Holland was experiencing a Golden Age. There was a lot of demand for luxury items such as tulips, by the newly rich. The bi-color tulips were rare enough to command high prices and demand soon outstripped supply. Prices escalated tempting even tradesmen to give up their professions and trade in tulip bulbs.
Tulips can be grown both from seed and from bulb offsets which are small bulbs which grow around the base of the main bulb from which the plants grow. The seeds from infected tulips do not have the virus so the resulting flowers are solid colors. It is only the offsets, which are clones of the parent bulb, that are infected with the virus and produce the desired broken colors. It was the bulbs, not the seeds that were traded.
Since tulip bulbs can only be lifted from the soil to be sold when they are dormant, a futures market was created to handle the contracts for purchase and sale while the bulbs were still in the ground. At the height of the mania, futures contracts on some bulbs were being traded up to ten times per day.
The market collapsed when a plague outbreak prevented buyers and sellers from meeting in the city of Haarlem for a bulb auction. Once that auction was cancelled, other bulb auctions were cancelled in a cascading fashion. Prices crashed back down to earth and many speculators were ruined.
Why do I want to buy a diseased bulb?
The Dutch government has banned the sale of infected bulbs. Modern Rembrandt tulips are disease free. Their colorful flowers are the result of careful breeding. Because their coloration is genetic, most modern Rembrandt tulips come in only a few color combinations. The most common are white with red streaks or yellow with red streaks. The “streaks” are classified as either feathered which run along the edges of the petals or flamed which have color running the length of the petals rather than just along the edge.
What is the difference between Rembrandt tulips and Parrot tulips?
The flowers of Rembrandt tulips have the classic cup shape. The individual petals have straight edges. They have two colors, a base color and a streaking color.
Parrot tulips have larger, more flamboyant flowers. The petals have scalloped or ruffled edges. The flowers can be solids, bi-colors or multi-colors. Instead of streaks, the colors blend in with one another without defined edges.
If you are interested in history as I am, you will want to add some Rembrandt tulips to your spring garden. You can leave the colorful blooms outside or cut them and add them to your flower arrangements for a truly Old Dutch Master display.