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By Staff | May 13, 2011

There is a foreign plant that has become pervasive in this region, an invasive species that has its roots in such exotic locales as Persia and the Ottoman Empire. Many have fallen under the spell of this herbaceous perennial and its potent mood-altering properties.

This concerned me, so I decided to investigate the issue. My wife and I passed ourselves off as an ordinary couple who were interested in sampling this vegetative sensation and were eventually put in touch with a fellow who is reputed to be an international dealer.

We were instructed to drive to a certain house located near the center of a small northwestern Iowa town. The home and its expansive yard were tidy and exquisitely landscaped.

My wife and I were soon chatting with a fellow named Brett and his wife, Nora. They seemed no different than any other average, ordinary Midwestern couple.

After yakking a bit, I cut to the chase.

“I hear you’re probably THE major supplier for this area,” I said.

“I would like to think so,” replied Brett. “We certainly have a nice selection. I can get you some Dreamland if that’s what you want, or maybe you’d like to try our Golden Nizza. A lot of people like the kind called Big Smile, but you strike me as the type who might enjoy Texas Flame or perhaps Giant Orange Sunset.”

It was shocking to learn that this sort of thing is taking place in small-town Middle America, virtually right out in the open. Yet I was curious, so I asked Brett where he acquired his stuff.

“It’s all imported from Holland,” he replied.

That somehow figured. After all, the Dutch have been dealing in tulip bulbs for more than 400 years.

Brett and Nora Mulder own Tulip Town Bulb Company, located in Orange City. Despite its name, the town of 6,000 is much better known for its surfeit of flowers than its accumulation of citrus fruit.

Indeed, the third weekend of May finds the annual Tulip Festival taking place in Orange City. Tens of thousands flock to the town to soak in the sight of innumerable blooming tulips and enjoy the area’s Dutch culture.

The Mulders have operated Tulip Town Bulb Company since 2006, when they purchased a flourishing bulb importing business from a fellow denizen of Orange City. Not surprisingly, Brett and Nora are well-versed in all things tulip-related.

“Tulips have been cultivated since about 1000 A.D.,” said Brett when asked about the history of the bulbous bloomers. “Traders brought them to western Europe and for some reason they became quite popular in Holland.”

I asked what he could tell me about that so-called tulip mania?

“There was a time during the first part of the 17th century when the price of tulip bulbs went crazy,” explained Brett. “It got so that a single bulb was worth as much as a house in Amsterdam. People began to trade on tulip bulbs that were still in the ground and hadn’t yet bloomed. The Dutch referred to this as ‘selling the wind.’

“It couldn’t last. The price of tulip bulbs suddenly plummeted and a lot of people lost a lot of money. Tulip mania is now considered to be the first example of an economic bubble.”

Speaking of burst bubbles, we planted a bunch of tulip bulbs one fall and some critter ate them all.

“That’s easy to fix,” said Brett. “Just put your bulbs in an envelope of chicken wire and bury the whole thing.”

How do you prepare for the Tulip Festival?

“For us, it begins the previous autumn,” said Brett. “We plant tulips all around our place and hope to have 50 varieties blossoming during the festival. But which ones will actually be blooming depends on the weather. You can’t control Mother Nature.”

How many tulip bulbs do you folks sell?

“We’ll sell up to 60,000 bulbs in a good year,” said Brett. “We have customers from 24 states, including California, Texas and New York. Some buy tulip bulbs because of their Dutch heritage. Others simply like having pretty flowers in the springtime.”

Do you have any tulip growing tips?

“Tulips don’t like it wet, so they should be planted in a well-drained, sunny area. Plant the bulbs late in the fall, after the soil has cooled, and bury them 6 to 8 inches deep. Once they’re done blooming, cut off the flower stalks so the plant puts all its energy back into the bulb.”

After viewing the splendorous tulip beds at the Mulder home, my wife and I left Orange City with our “is winter over yet?” mood radically altered.

Best of all, we were able to broker a deal that will allow us to enjoy some of our own “homegrown” Red Nova next spring.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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