How many tulips?

Mark Brooky • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:36 PM


My first thought was to ask Gwen Auwerda, executive director of Tulip Time, which just wrapped its 2013 festival.

"The City of Holland orders and plants most all the tulips in the city," she told me. "I do not know the number of varieties or colors — there seems to be endless combinations. All of the bulbs are purchased in the Netherlands and shipped to us in the fall for planting."

Auwerda suggested I talk to someone from the Nelis Dutch Village in Holland for the specifics on the bulbs.

Celeste Kommer of the village said there are 16 different horticultural classifications of tulip bulbs, based on the development and plant size: Single Early, Double Early, Triumph, Darwin, Single Late, Lily Flowering, Fringed, Viridiflora, Rembrandt, Parrot, Double Late, Kaufmanniana, Fosteriana (Emperor), Greigii, Species (Botanical) and Multicultural.

She said there are more than 3,000 varieties of tulips registered.

"All tulip bulb varieties need to be planted in the fall," Kommer said. "They are perfect for this area and climate, as they need the cold dormant period to 'rest' before flowering in the spring."

Kommer said the Nelis family, like tulips, are not native to West Michigan. As you would guess, both come from the Netherlands.

The Nelis family became involved in the tulip bulb-growing business through a cousin back in the early 1900s. Young Harry Nelis came over from the Netherlands in 1910 at the age of 17. He found some land in Missouri and planted vegetables to sell. In September 1911, his parents and 11 siblings joined him. But the farming business was not profitable, so they traveled around before finally settling in Holland, Mich.

The Nelis family began growing vegetables again to sell locally and also made frequent trips to the Chicago produce            markets. When the Great Depression hit, the family decided to switch from growing vegetables to the flower bulb business.

"A cousin in the Netherlands ran out of land in the old country and asked his American family to plant daffodils," Kommer said. "This request changed the Nelis family history and contribution to the Holland, Mich., area. They grew daffodils for a few years, but soon added crops of tulips. By the late 1930s, the family's tulip farm had become a hot spot for tourists flocking to Holland for the new Tulip Time Festival."

As time passed, the Nelis' tulip farm became increasingly popular, and a large windmill and souvenir shop were added. Soon Holland souvenirs were as popular  as the tulip bulbs.

For more in the Nelis Dutch Village, CLICK HERE.

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