In bold red, stunning yellow and smoldering tangerine-pink, tulips boast a range of colors—as well as that seductively curved shape. And because each flower has both male and female reproductive organs, botanists consider them “perfect” flowers. That means that while bees can work as pollinators and help create new genetic combinations as they buzz through, an individual tulip can also self-pollinate and create identical offspring. Basically, tulips can clone themselves: pretty neat.
But if we’re drawn to the flower’s beauty and science, our zeal barely compares to that of Dutch citizens of the 17th century. Tulpenwoede—a Dutch madness for trading tulips that reached its peak in the 1630s—is a phenomenon that’s fascinated both financial analysts and historians for years. The tulip was considered so beautiful and so unlike other plants that folks in Amsterdam began to spend unreasonable amounts of money (sometimes as much as a merchant’s annual salary) just to own some bulbs. Some even became professional tulip traders, and speculators entered the market to churn things up. By the winter of 1636-37, a bulb might be traded ten times in a single day.
According to Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused, one particular strain of the flower helped foment the feverish trading, in part due to its special hue. As author Mike Dash writes, “Beginning as a solid blue where the stem met the flower’s base, the corolla quickly turned pure white. Slim, blood-colored flares shot up the center of all six petals, and flakes and flashes of the same rich shade adorned the flower’s edges.” Those fortunate enough to see one of these tulips, called Semper Augustus, “thought it a living wonder, as seductive as Aphrodite,” Dash writes.
Quite the flower—and quite the frenzy. There’s even, says the Internet, a tulipomania board game. But whether you believe that the 17th century Dutch went wild over tulip trading because of irrationality or because, as one analyst suggests, “an outbreak of bubonic plague in Amsterdam made people less risk-averse,” the Netherlands is still a top place for tulips.
And even if the country isn’t on your travel list this year, you’re in luck. Read on for six other spots around the world where you can indulge in a little tulip mania yourself.
Lisse, The Netherlands
The famous tulip celebration in the Netherlands centers on Keukenhof (which means “kitchen garden”), a place with fields upon fields of the flower. In this same spot in the early 15th century, Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria—or Jacoba van Beieren, in Dutch—picked fruits and vegetables for the royal kitchen. The countess died in 1436 after a rather storied life, but the woods where she used to gather edibles are now home to more than 7 million tulips. You can visit the park and its incredible quantity of tulips between March 24 and May 16. (And click here for a 360-degree video of the flowers from a team of panorama enthusiasts.)