The Tulip Virus and Its History

The tulip virus has a long history that goes back to the 19th century. At the end of the 19th century, various forms of tulips and the tulipa genus had flower petals that were streaked, flamed or feathered in rich colors, or more subtle colors, were the most prized of all the different kinds of tulips since they were so unique. I, personally, love the tulips since they are so different and unique looking.

These patterns arose spontaneously in newly breed bulbs, which for the first few years had produced pure, evenly colored flowers that had at some point ‘broken’. The original color was no longer evenly spread over the petal but concentrated into lines and stripes instead. This sometimes left areas paler or showing only the clear yellow or white base color. Once established, the exotically patterned plants could be propagated from their bulbs and the pattern of breaking remained consistent. New varieties were created by crossing the unbroken tulips that made up the nursery stock of florists or growers, and now become known as breeders.

*Tip: Tulips can be planted alongside your canopy gazebo to add a little touch of color to the spring landscape. You have to think about planting in the late fall to get them going for spectacular color in the spring.

There have been many theories to explain the phenomenon of breaking and many practices were tried to initiate it in breeder tulips. It was noticed that broken tulips lacked the vigor and vitality of their breeder forms.

Rembrandt Tulips

The famous mottled or "broken" tulips that launched the frenzy of trading that culminated in the near collapse of the Dutch economy in 1637, still have a following. The period became known as "Tulipomania," and the tulips themselves became known as "Rembrandt" tulips.

By the beginning of the twentieth century some form of infection was suspected as being the cause. It was not until 1928 that Dorothy Cayley, a mycologist at the John Innes Horticultural Institute in Merton near London, finally confirmed this by isolating the tulip breaking virus (TBV).

At the time of the discovery, however, many bulbs were needed for park beds and public displays all around the country. The old-fashion forms with their weak makeup had been superseded and now that it was seen that they carried disease they were quickly banished from commercial production all together. Today the tulip virus is a constant threat to the prosperity of the tulip industry and it is ruthlessly eliminated and kept under control.

*Reminder, that fall and winter bring to mind a suggestion to get your snowblower and winter equipment ready before any  bad weather gets here.

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