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Clusius and the tulip

 

Carolus Clusius or Charles de l' Ecluse (1526-1609) is one of the most famous botanists of the early seventeenth century. He was a contemporary of Rembert Dodoens (a herbalist) and Lobelius. The fact thatClusius, although he had studied medicine, was
chiefly active as a botanist, has contributed to his great qualities. He was the first to take the important step from herbalist to describing botanist. He described the plants according to their exact form, in short and terse terms, and tried to use shortest possible names. He often confined himself to two words, the binary form, which was applied so consequently by Linnaeus later on. The name of Clusius is indissoluble connected with tulips and bulb growing. It is generally assumed that he was the first person growing tulips in Holland. Besides, he gave much of his material (bulbs and seed) to others.

The tulip is generally supposed to originate from Turkey. Its cradle, however, can be found much further to the east, near the foothills of the Himalaya mountains. The extensive Turkish or Ottoman Empire of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) stretched from North Africa into Hungary and covered the larger part of Asia Minor. At the court of Constantinople (which after the conquest, in 1543, became the capital of the Ottoman Empire), high value was set on landscape gardening and the cultivation of tulips. Like many other products, tulips were brought from the outer provinces to the capital. This great interest in tulips has also been observed by Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq, the ambassador of the Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I. As far back as 1555, he mentioned them in his letter to Vienna. In Western Europe, the bloom of the first 'Tulip of the Turks' was reported by Conrad Gesner in 1561.

Clusius, then Prefect of the Imperial Herb Garden in Vienna, succeeded in obtaining tulip bulbs and seeds, too. During his Viennese period, but also after 1577 in Frankfurt and after 1593 as Horti Praefectus in Leiden, Clusis performed elaborate crossbreeding and sowing tests with his various species that reached him through Busbecq and others. His important work 'Rariorum aliquot stirpium per Hispanias observatorum Historia, libris duobus express' dating back from 1567 (the very first Flora of a specific region, based on Clusius' own observations during a journey through Spain) contains an appendix which has nothing to do with the Spanish flora. In this appendix, Clusius describes all kinds of bulbous plants, especially tulips, he had received from Turkey. These were mostly cultivated products. We now know that the first early-flowering tulips that came to Europe originated from the area around Kaffa in the Crimean, viz. Tulipa schrenkii. This species has the characteristics of the 'Duc van Tol' tulips, which also flower early and can be regarded as the precursors of the 'Single Early Tulips'. Of these and other very old varieties, a considerable number of forms have been presented at the 'Hortus Bulborum' in Limmen. A selection of them has also been planted in the Botanical Garden (Hortus) of Leiden. In this way, they are prevented from becoming extinct. One of the very oldest 'Duc van Tol' tulips still existing is a yellow and red variety, which was described already in 1620.

Among the aquarelles serving as examples for the woodcuts in the works of, among others, Clusius is a beautiful picture of a pink tulip closely resembling 'Duc van Tol'. A picture of this aquarelle was already published in 1609.
Tulips are subdivided into groups which are defined e.g., by flowering time, form of flower and size. Some examples: the single early tulips feature the oldest varieties, many of them are still marketed today and date back from the 19th century. The origin of the double early tulips is unclear, unfortunately. The presumably stem from the 'Murillo' produced in 1850.

The darwin tulips are the product of this century. Due to their long and firm stems and beautifully formed flowers, they have a good reputation as cut-flowers. The lily-flowered tulips have long narrow-waited flowers with pointed petals. Parrot tulips also date back from the 17th century. They often have two colours and twisted, fringed petals.