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Outdoors: Tulip mania

A field of pink, red, white, yellow and purple tulips

During the seventeen century, the golden age of Dutch art, the Dutch masters painted a variety of subjects: portraits, historical works, landscapes, seascapes.

But, for their still-life flower art, variety was limited.

Dutch flower paintings almost always featured tulips.

You see, the Dutch were crazy about tulips — historians refer to the phenomenon as tulipmania.

During this period of economic prosperity, the nobility planted tulips to demonstrate their status.

Consequently, the emerging merchant class considered tulips the epitome of luxury and a sign of wealth, so they invested incredible sums of money in purchasing tulip bulbs.

Several references reported that at the market’s peak, “the rarest tulip bulbs traded for as much as six times the average person’s annual salary."

In today’s terms, that would be in the neighborhood of a million U.S. dollars.

In order to acquire bulbs, investors, including some famous artists, began buying tulips with leverage, using margined derivatives contracts to buy more than they could afford (this somehow sounds so familiar).

Anyway, the bubble burst, and they were ruined.

Many modern historians think the tale of the tulip bubble is exaggerated, but it certainly is true that the Dutch love tulips.

They grow and export around two billion bulbs each year, and gardeners plant them for their blossoms and to help the pollinators in spring.

Well, tulips are colorful and attractive, but unless they are purplish, bees really aren't attracted to them (bees can’t see the red end of the spectrum).

And while tulips have gobs of pollen, they have very little nectar.

Bees much prefer crocus and grape hyacinth in the garden, but they visit gardens only when spring flowering trees and shrubs are not nearby.

If you really want to help bees and other pollinators, go ahead and buy some tulip bulbs for your own enjoyment, but also plant natives.

Sure, it’s cheaper to pick up a flat of annuals from a grocery or big box store, but you won't face financial ruin if you invest in a few native shrubs or perennials.

"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.