The Queen of Tulips

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There’s a curious period in Dutch history known as Tulip Mania – a time when both the desire for, and price of tulips reached astronomical heights. The flower shown here is Semper Augustus, a rare specimen considered to be the most beautiful of all tulips. At its peak in 1636-37, tulips were such a desired status symbol that people paid outrageous sums of money for them. And Semper Augustus fetched the most money of them all – upwards of 10,000 guiders ($5,700) for one bulb. To put that into perspective, a stately home on a fashionable Amsterdam canal during that period cost the same amount.

Semper Augustus was an example of a “broken” flower, meaning that rather than being one solid colour it had streaks of colour. The rich flame-like waves of colour were like nothing available before, making for highly original and expressive tulips. They became an immediate sensation, even though just twelve bulbs of this unique variety were known to exist.  In 1623, Nicolaes van Wassenaer, a physician and chronicler of the period, had this to say about the prized plant, “The colour is white, with carmine on a blue base, and with an unbroken flame right to the top. Never did a Blommist see a more beautiful one than this: no tulip has ever been in greater esteem.”

Scientists eventually discovered the tulip’s streaking effect was the result of a virus, one that led to the demise of the magnificant Semper Augustus. When in full bloom, Holland's tulip economy was a spectacle to behold, howverer, it was only a matter of time before human greed and a broken flower ended it all. 

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