The tulip is a wildflower said to originate from Persia. In the 1500s, tulips were extensively cultivated in Turkey, and because of their resemblance to the "tulbend" — a turban worn by Turkish men — were called tulipan.
In 1562, tulip bulbs from Constantinople reached Antwerp by ship. Before the turn of the century, tulips had been such a rarity that only the wealthy in Holland could afford them; consequently, tulips became a status symbol for the rich. However, by the 1620s, buying and selling tulips became an activity for merchants, and "tulip madness" ensued. Tulip trading crashed in 1637, throwing Holland into financial ruin. After the Dutch government enforced strict laws for cultivating and selling bulbs, the tulip became the national emblem of Holland.
Oriental legend recounts that a Persian youth, named Ferhad, fell in love with a maiden named Shirin. When Shirin did not accept Ferhad's feelings for her, he went out into the desert to die from his broken heart. As he pined, each tear that fell into the sand turned into a beautiful tulip.
Among the Persian people, the tulip is an offering a young man makes to his beloved. By offering her a tulip, he says, "as the redness of this flower, I am on fire with love." Shortly after World War II, the Dutch shipped hundreds of thousands of tulip bulbs to Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. This symbolic gesture showed their thanks, not only to Canadian soldiers for freeing Holland from German occupation, but also for the Canadian government's welcoming Queen Maria to reside in Ottawa while the war raged on. This remarkable gesture continues to this day.
For the most part, tulips are a declaration of love; a gift from a "perfect lover." Variegated tulips are for "beautiful eyes". Red tulips indicate an irresistible love, while yellow tulips denote a hopeless love with no chance of reconciliation.