Saudi Aramco World: May/June 2014 - page 44

Saudi Aramco World
actively sought out for their aesthetic rather than practical qualities.
There is some debate about how the tulip got its name and
how it arrived in Europe. In 1546, French naturalist Pierre Be-
lon set off on a scientific journey through Greece, Asia Minor,
Egypt, Syria and Palestine, and he published his
in 1553. He comments that it was the fashion for Turks to wear
tulips in their turbans, or
, which the tulips themselves at
least vaguely resembled. Since the Turkish word for tulip is
it has been suggested that the modern English name is the result
of confusing the headdress for the flower.
There is no evidence, however, that Belon sent tulip bulbs
home. A plausible theory is that the Austrian diplomat Ogier
Ghislain de Busbecq gave some to his friend Carolus Clusius,
the Flemish botanist in charge of the imperial medical garden
at Vienna. De Busbecq was ambassador at the court of Sulei-
man the Magnificent, and he spent part of each year from 1554
to 1562 in Istanbul. Besides tulips, he is credited with sending
home a number of other bulbs and plants, among them lilac, the
grape hyacinth and the plane tree, to friends in Vienna and else-
where. Later in his career, Clusius moved to Leiden, where he
founded one of the first academic botanical gar-
dens in Europe. From these transmissions sprang
the extraordinary phenomenon of “tulipomania”
in Holland in the 1630’s and the multimillion-
dollar export industry of today.
Massive demand for bulbs was nothing new,
however. In
A Garden for the Sultan
Nurhan Atasoy cites ledgers from Topkapı show-
ing, for example, that in 1592 there was an
urgent request for 50,000 white and 50,000 blue
hyacinths from the summer pastures at Mara
south-central Turkey.
Diplomats and merchants were important
in the transmission of garden flowers back to
Europe. They were in contact with the kinds of
people who collected plants, who had gardens,
and who also would have known where to obtain
specimens. Clusius mentions that he saw the first
scilla (
Scilla siberica
) in bloom in Vienna in 1575,
grown from bulbs given to him by a member of
the imperial delegation to the Ottoman Porte.
Today, scilla provide a carpet of brilliant blue in
northern gardens in early spring.
It is not clear whether lilies are native to
western Europe, but the Madonna lily (
), which originated in the Balkans and
western Asia, was certainly present as far back
as classical times. As the name indicates, it came
to have great symbolic importance through its
association with purity and virtue.
Other varieties of lilies came along the route
from Constantinople. The spectacular Crown
Imperial (
Fritillaria imperialis
) is native to the area
stretching from Kurdistan to the foothills of the
Himalayas, where the red version was used for
It is the subject of numerous legends and a common motif in
miniatures and embroidery. Clusius received bulbs forwarded from
the Ottoman Empire to Vienna in 1576, and soon it was the “must
have” in elegant gardens, although it is relatively little grown today.
The yellow variant—
—was first mentioned in 1665.
One more 16th-century introduction, probably along the
same route, is the Turk’s Cap Lily—
Lilium martagon
. It grows
across Eurasia, but there is some debate as to whether it is also
native to certain areas of Europe. The word
, meaning
a small, tightly rolled turban in Turkish, suggests that, wherever
it may grow, it reached Europe from the Ottoman world. It ap-
pears in English in the 16th century and is apparently mentioned
as growing in Bergen, Norway, by 1597, which gives an idea of
how quickly fashionable plants spread.
Lilac (
Syringa vulgaris
), another important symbol of spring
across eastern Europe, is native to the Balkans, but because
of religious and political divisions, it reached western Europe
from the gardens of Constantinople from two directions: De
Busbecq carried it to Vienna, while the Venetian ambassador
introduced it to Italy.
This miniature shows Europeans dining in a garden
with two Turks. Such an occasion might have led to a
gift of flowers, seeds or bulbs or advice on where they
could be purchased.
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