Tulipomania in full bloom at Van Cortlandt Manor


Tuesday, 4/21/2015 3:46pm

Do you know anyone who doesn’t love tulips? Or spring? At LIGHTSCAPES, we celebrate both by covering Van Cortlandt Manor’s expansive front lawn with thousands of tulip sculptures, lit up with the soothing pastel colors of a May garden.

An obsession with the colorful spring-blooming bulbs is nothing new. From the Ottoman Empire to modern-day Holland, cultures have gone gaga over tulips.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of tulip obsession occurred in Holland in the 1600s, when a run on tulip bulbs - dubbed Tulipomania - set off what is some regard as the first economic speculation bubble. As tulips became popular among the rich in Amsterdam and elsewhere, the price of bulbs began to climb – and climb. In one amusing exchange, a bulb of one prized tulip variety, Semper Augustus, was traded for a long list of goods, including a suit of clothes, a bed, and a thousand pounds of cheese.

In 1637, demand suddenly evaporated and the tulip market crashed in spectacular fashion. Prices plunged and widespread panic ensued as bulbs were suddenly worth a fraction what they been selling for just days before. The tulip bubble had burst.

Nevertheless, the Dutch continued their romance with tulips, and Dutch immigrants brought their love of the spring-blooming flowers to the New World.

Van Cortlandt Manor’s first residents, Pierre and Joanna Van Cortlandt, were of Dutch heritage and thus were most certainly acquainted with tulips. Although there is no documentation that the Van Cortlandts planted tulips at Van Cortlandt, the bulbs were commonly used in Hudson Valley gardens during the colonial and New Nation periods when the Van Cortlandts resided at the Manor.

More recently, a circa 1959-1962 photo of the Manor’s Long Walk shows tulips in full bloom along the brick pathway. According to Historic Hudson Valley’s Landscape Manager Mary Anne Witte, thousands of tulips lined the Long Walk as recently as the 1980s.  

Now tulips have returned to Van Cortlandt Manor thanks to LIGHTSCAPES. Made of recycled and upcycled materials and drawing their colors from state-of-the-art lighting, these flowers pay tribute to the Manor’s Dutch roots and celebrate the vibrant, spirit-lifting burst of color that is spring.

See the tulips of LIGHTSCAPES, along with thousands of other colorful creatures and fantastic flowers, every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening, from May 1-31.

Tulip Trivia

Origin: Tulips are native to Central Asia, and were originally cultivated in the Ottoman Empire.

How did they get their name? When they were imported to Holland in the 16th century, Europeans gave tulips their name, which comes from the Turkish word for gauze, or turban, probably because the flower’s shape resembles the traditional Turkish head-covering, or because of the fashion in the Ottoman Empire to wear tulips on turbans.

What those colors mean: Although tulips in general have come to represent perfect love, different tulip colors carry distinct meanings: Red is associated with true love, Purple with royalty, White with forgiveness, and Yellow with cheerfulness.

From the lily clan: Tulips belong to the same family as lilies, and are relatives of the family that includes onions.

Father of a Dutch obsession: Botanist Carolus Clusius reportedly brought the first bulbs to Holland in 1593 from Constantinople for medicinal and educational purposes. He refused to sell them, so others stole them from his garden, eventually leading to a Dutch obsession with the flowers that spawned tulipomania.

Bulbomania: The Dutch are the biggest exporter of tulip bulbs, producing over 4 billion bulbs each year.

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