Plants - Flower Bulbs

Why Rembrandt tulips rule

Plant these dazzling bulbs in your garden for a spring show sure to turn heads

Back in 17th-century Holland, tulips were only grown in the University of Leiden’s botanical garden. One dark and stormy night, a few locals lusting after the rare flowers climbed over the garden’s wall, stole some bulbs and began cultivating them for sale. 

The tulips that drove men mad had multicoloured blooms with distinctive mottled streaks and stunning feathered and flamed patterns unique to each flower. Known today as Rembrandts, they began the great speculative roller coaster known as Tulipomania, which lasted from 1620 until the market for the tulips crashed in 1637. During the height of the frenzy, bulbs were traded hundreds of times over while still in the ground, sometimes selling for as much as $40,000 each in today’s money.

Unfortunately, the glorious colour motifs on the Rembrandt tulip petals of yore were caused not by magic, but by the mosaic virus, a pathogen that weakened bulbs and eventually killed them. Luckily, modern-day hybridizers have succeeded in recreating these fantastic, one-of-a-kind tulips in look-alike—but completely virus-free—blooms.

Modern Rembrandts are found in every tulip category, including triumph, parrot, single early, single late, double and Darwin hybrid.

Cut-tulip care
Tulip bulbs are planted in the fall, so buy them now as cut flowers and enjoy them in glorious spring arrangements.

  • For longest life, purchase tulips with closed buds that show just a tiny bit of colour at the top.
  • Fill vases one-third full of cool water and replenish it daily; do not add cut-flower food.
  • Before arranging, recut flower stems at a slight angle, which allows them to drink in fresh water.
  • Temperature matters. For lasting blooms, display tulips in a cool spot (and never on the television set). 
  • If using in mixed arrangements, keep in mind that over a week, fresh-cut tulips will grow about 1.5 centimetres taller in the vase.

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