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Article: Is The Tulip Breaking Virus A Death Sentence For Tulips?

Tulipa Zomerschoon Tulip Mania Old House Gardens

Is The Tulip Breaking Virus A Death Sentence For Tulips?

Tulipa Zomerschoon Tulip Mania Old House Gardens

Today's #TulipFact: For unknown reasons, some Broken Tulips have had the "best of both worlds", carrying the beautiful breaks and coloring caused by the virus, but never exhibiting the detrimental effects that have proven lethal for so many strains. The Zomerschoon is the best example of this - a Tulip first registered in 1620 and popular during Tulip Mania. It has been infected with the virus for centuries and yet continues to survive to this day.

We have written a lot about Broken Tulips here (see our earlier article on Broken Tulips - The Beautiful Curse), and this author in particular feels nigh-obsessed with the flowers. The dangers of the virus are well documented and very real - click here for more on that - but it simply feels like something too beautiful to simply consign to digging up and throwing away, or banning outright in the case of the Netherlands.

Perhaps it is simply a mystery that needs solving, and flowers like the Zomerschoon could hold the key. While the longest-lasting of the broken breeds, several others have demonstrated a similar resistance to the negative effects of the Tulip Breaking Virus: The streaked pink & yellow 'Lizard' has existed since 1903, the sharp red & white 'Silver Standard' since 1760. Others like the Absalon (1780), Mabel (1856), and Insulinde (1914) have all survived for at least a century, so we know that it is indeed possible.

But why is that? What is it about these broken breeds that has allowed them to buck the trend and thrive? The sad truth is that, at this time, we simply do not know. However, a little logic can help us at least narrow things down. 

For these Tulips to have survived and thrived for as long as they have, it would have to mean that one of the following is true:

  1. The virus that infects the Tulip is a unique or weaker strain than that which has claimed so many Tulips before. Perhaps a mutation or change has occurred where the virus simply does not cause the well-known damage and instead serves as a 'symbiote' that only increases the flowers beauty?
  2. These particular breeds of Tulip are particularly strong or resistant to the virus. Should this be the case, it would mean that this virus, upon infecting other Tulips, would cause the familiar stunted growth and weakened bulbs, but these particular Tulip breeds are somehow resistant.
  3. A mix of the first two - perhaps these Tulips are the lucky interaction of a resistant Tulip and a weakened virus.

Sadly, at this time we simply do not know. Broken Tulips are today viewed by many as a threat to their garden (or their industry in the case of the Dutch), and not as something to be better understood. Still, knowledge will eventually rise, and we can only hope that one day this mystery will be deciphered.

Image source: Old House Gardens - see their website here.

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