October 20, 2011 at 9:10 a.m.

Tulip virus been around long time

Tulip virus been around long time
Tulip virus been around long time

Most bulbs for spring blooming have been planted or will be planted soon. The one exception are tulips that seem to tolerate late planting better than most other bulbs. While they can be planted anytime in early to mid fall, one can still plant them until the ground starts to freeze.

While going through my file on tulips I came across an old article by Katharine Widin who is a plant pathologist and the owner of Plant Health Associates. She wrote a very interesting article on the history of tulip break virus. It turns out that the virus is not as scary as the title suggests.

Tulip break virus was one of the earliest plant diseases recorded, going back as early as 1576. It wasn't until 1928 that it was determined that a virus caused the condition. Infected plants are often discolored and stunted and are more susceptible to winter injury. They also take longer to start, are often flawed, and of less value than healthy ones.

Tulip breaking virus occurs worldwide wherever tulips are grown. Plants can become infected through aphid feeding or the grafting process. Infection causes streaks, flecks, stripes, or feathery patterns on lighter-colored petals.

Double-flowered varieties are more prone to the virus than the single-flowered tulips. Leaves and stems may also show streaking and infected plants may be stunted and less vigorous. Infected plants will take longer to flower, but the virus usually doesn't kill the plant.

In the early 1600's, European bulb fanciers eagerly sought and prized the beautiful colors of the infected tulips. Dutch painters such as Rembrandt often included these striped flowers in their paintings. In the 1630's, a craze for tulips with mosaic-type tulip break symptoms increased the cost for a single bulb to thousands of dollars.

According to the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center, one bill of sale from the early 17th century shows that a buyer paid two loads of wheat, four loads of rye, four fat oxen, eight fat pigs, 12 sheep, two barrels of butter, 1,000 pounds of cheese, two hogsheads of wine, four barrels of special beer, a silver beaker, a suit of clothes, and a bed, all for a single bulb.

The craze lasted only a few years but many fortunes were made and lost through speculation.

If you have tulip break virus in your garden you can only control it by digging and destroying the infected plants and bulbs. As you throw away your infected bulbs, think about the thousands of dollars you could have lost in Holland in the 1630's.


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