OLD DUTCH TULIPS - Tulip 'Absalom'

maroon and yellow striped flowers of  Tulip 'Absalom'
Tulip 'Absalom'
With regards to bulbs that survived the heady days of old Dutch 'Tulipmania, Tulip 'Absalom' really shouldn't be among them. Arriving on the scene in 1780, its rich patterns combined swirling flames of dark chocolate against a pure golden foil caused a sensation. Even today, most people have never even seen a brown tulip, let alone one as superbly decorated as this..
Absalom is what is known as a true 'broken' Tulip, that is to say that the tulips lock on its single bold colour was broken, now known to be caused by the Tulip Breaking Virus.

To be more specific, 'Absalom' comes from a group of tulips known as the “Dutch Bazaars”, and as a broken Bizarre it has been bred from a 'bizarre' breeder parent which is identified by its flower having a yellow base with petal colours of either an orange, scarlet, brown or black coloration.

As mentioned previously, the unusual colour striations have been brought about by the 'Tulip Breaking Virus', an almost a mythical disease that had confounded tulip breeders for centuries. Responsible for the stunning colour breaks in single, block coloured tulips these 'broken' colour tulips were a major factor in the financial madness that occurred during the Tulip mania period of 1636-1637. During this time, ownership of these rare specimens was a reflection of your wealth and standing within society, and for a short period at least, they also made good business sense.

For centuries, generations of Europe's top Tulip breeders believed that it was environmental conditions that cause these single colour tulips to break. The general consensus was that these unique coloration's could be induced by either frequently changing the soil, allowing the bulb to weaken by allowing it to seed, or storage on exposed conditions so that the bulb would be 'acted' upon by the rain wind frost or sun. Eventually it was series of experiments by Dorothy Cayley that led to the discovery of the 'Tulip Breaking Virus' in 1928. Working at the John Innes Horticultural Institution, She discovered that by transferring infected tissue from broken to healthy bulbs during their dormant state, the infective agent that caused the break in color would also be transferred. These experiments were further refined to include the tiny amounts of genetic material that could be transferred by an insect, which became her final deduction.

Unfortunately there is a serious downside with this virus as it has a detrimental effect on the bulb itself. Infected bulbs will often grow stunted and weak, and as the virus progresses through each generation of plant the bulbs, it reduces their vigour, making them difficult to propagate. Eventually the bulb has no strength left to flower, eventually withering to nothing and ending the genetic line. It's for this reason alone that some of the most famous examples of colour broken bulbs - the 'Semper August'' and the 'Viceroy' - are no longer in existence.

However, and rather surprising, there are a few varieties of 'broken' bulbs whose worst aspects of the viral infections have remained benign, one of which is of course the rare Tulip 'Absalom'. It's an eye-catching beauty with a uniform habit, growing to a height 12-14 inches in its first year - increasing to 16 in subsequent years. It has resilient and long lasting flowers which open later than most other tulips. You can expect to see them coming into bud during the beginning of April and flowering through to the middle of May.

If you wish to purchase Tulip 'Absalom' bulbs then they become available in the autumn from several reputable online retailers.

Main image credit - Simon Eade gardenofeaden@gmail.com

For related article click onto the following links:
How to Grow Species Tulips from Seed
OLD DUTCH TULIPS - Tulip 'Lac van Rijn'
SPECIES TULIP - Tulipa Wilsoniana
Telegraph Tulip

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