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April 27, 2013

Tulips from Pakistan

Those beautiful, spring flowering bulbs known as ‘tulips’ do not, you may be surprised to learn, actually come from Holland but are indigenous to Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and the northern regions of India. ‘Tulipa’ to give them their correct botanical title, grow wild in upland areas of Balochistan, north Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, throughout the northern areas and Azad Kashmir and, while there are a number of different species, two of them tulipa lehmanniana and tulipa stellata are the most commonly seen. Tulipa lehmanniana is mainly found in Balochistan where it thrives in rough, stony ground, at an altitude between 1,100 and 1,600 metres with tulipa stellata growing in the other areas mentioned: this latter species is generally happy at an altitude of 900 to 1,400 metres and is still found — although its numbers are reducing as a result of human and expansion and chemical based agriculture — around Rawalpindi and Islamabad up into the Murree hills where it can be in bloom from early March through until mid-May, depending on daytime temperatures and the amount of direct sunshine its growing location receives. Tulipa lehmanniana produces beautiful blooms in a variety of colours such as blazing yellow, vermillion and , whilst tulipa stellata is either white inside and streaked dark pink on the outside of its delicate petals, or in the case of tulipa stellata var. chrysantha, yellow inside and red on the outside. The reason that so many people consider Holland to be the home of tulips is that they are widely cultivated and hybridised there: most of the tulip bulbs for sale in world markets come from Holland as do the gorgeous tulips, in all the colours of the rainbow and more, sold as cut flowers too. Until 1554, however, tulips were completely unknown in the western world. They were introduced to Holland by a gentleman called Mr de Busbecq, who was the Dutch ambassador of King Ferdinand the First, at the Court of the Sultan of Constantinople, present day Istanbul, in Turkey who fell in love with them and sent bulbs home where, quickly adapting to the climate, they flourished and soon became so popular that people there developed an entire system of monetary gambling based on the procurement of tulip bulbs — a practice that was completely banned way back in 1637 because it had got way out of hand. Our very own indigenous tulips are smaller in size than the modern-day Dutch varieties which have been specially bred for large, showy, blooms and the plants also have much larger bulbs than their wild ancestors but, beautiful as tulips from Holland maybe, there is nothing to compare with the sight of wild tulips nodding in the breeze right here in Pakistan.