Commercial growers now dread the unexpected appearance of a flamed or feathered flower amid their vast fields, for it signals the possible presence of mosaic virus, a disease that weakens the infected flower and easily spreads to its neighbors. There’s little appreciation for the intoxicatingly beautiful flowers that bankrupted some of us in the early 17th century. Now cooler heads prevail and the commercial tulip world leaves the risky work of perpetuating broken tulips to others, content to focus production and research on the more predictable charms of healthy flowers and stable mutations.
The growing and selling of the flowers, whether as bulbs for fall planting or cut flowers has become a highly organized, professional industry that generates more than $2 billion in exports. More than seventy five percent of all bulbs traded worldwide are grown here in fields that spread over more than 60,000 acres. Of the nearly 6000 tulips known to exist, 2600 are still grown commercially guaranteeing gardeners and landscapers all over the world a wide variety of colors, shapes and bloom times. The biggest markets for Dutch flower bulbs are the United States, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom with significant interest building in China and Russia.
The tulip brings money to the Netherlands in other ways, too. Each spring, thousands of tourists flock to the gardens at Keukenhof, the nearly endless bulb fields of Noordoostpolderor the older fields that stretch between The Hague and Haarlem. There are wonderful festivals and parades celebrating tulips in countless Dutch towns. Tourists come in all seasons to see the art that tulips inspired during the golden age, when a masterful painting or drawing of a tulip cost far less than an actual flower. Tulips have become the iconic symbol of a nation that they might have destroyed, and we are delighted to keep it that way.