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The Romance of the Black Tulip

Updated on July 16, 2014
The black tulip - Gardens in the city of Limoges, South West France
The black tulip - Gardens in the city of Limoges, South West France | Source

A Black Tulip for a Black Garden

I've long wished for a black garden and spent many an odd hour or two reasearching black plants that could grace this garden, and what should I come across but the black tulip. Superb!

The black garden is a figment of my imagination just at the moment although I now have plenty of space, (1.5 hectares!), at Les Trois Chenes, our guest house and holiday cottage in Limousin, S W France. Black flowers would make interesting subjects for our painting students, but galvanising myself into action is hard work these days, so I thought I'd start with a garden design as I am, after all, a landscape designer as well as an artist.

But then there is just so much to do in the flower and vegetable gardens at the moment that I thought perhaps I could create a plant list instead..... But there are just so many plants with black flowers of foliage .... so I decided to narrow it down to bulbs bearing black flowers. Even reducing the task to bulbs with black flowers was too overawing, and eventually I embarked on the modest task of discovering the delights of the black tulip.

Imagine how I felt when I moved from tulip to book, to film, to film of the book, to monuments in far flung places to ...... well, who knows where. Why not join me on the fascinating and mysterious trail of the black tulip.

If you are interested in visiting our B&B, holiday cottage or joining us for our painting holidays, do feel free to contact me on info@lestroischenes.com. You can telephone me on +33 (0)5 55 48 29 84 or have a look at our website www.lestroischenes.com

Black Tulips at Les Trois Chenes

This is the first year I've managed to grow black tulips at our B&B in Limousin - I'm going to enjoy every minute of them.
This is the first year I've managed to grow black tulips at our B&B in Limousin - I'm going to enjoy every minute of them. | Source

Come and see our black tulips!

Stay here with us at Les Trois Chenes. We are situated in the natural park of Perigord-Limousin only fifteen minutes from the medieval town of Rochechouart.


We have a B&B, a holiday cottage (or gite) that sleeps 7 people, and we offer painting holidays - come and paint our black tulips!


Contact me on +33 (0)5 55 48 29 84, email me on info@lestroischenes.com or check out our web site www.lestroichenes.com.

Find out more about us and our beautiful region, the Dordogne and Limousin, in my collection of articles about this area: Articles by Les Trois Chenes

A brief history of the tulip

The story of the tulip began in the middle East in the Ottoman Empire during the period, 1718 - 1730 called The Tulip Era. This was a relatively peaceful period, during which the Ottoman Empire can be said to have begun to orient itself towards Europe and this period derives its name from a tulip craze among the Ottoman court society.

The tulip could have arrived in Europe around 1558 however we know that Carolus Clusius planted tulips at the Imperial Botanical Gardens of Vienna in 1573 and in1593 he planted them at the Leiden University's newly established botanical garden. The popularity of the tulip grew in Holland eventually reaching such heights that the period during the Dutch Golden age was named Tulip mania or tulipo-mania. At this time prices for bulbs at the peak of tulip mania in 1637, reached giddy heights when a single tulip bulb could be sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. The link between the Netherlands and the tulip remains strong today.

The first tulips are thought to have been grown in the United States on the Fay Estate in Lynn and Salem, Massachusetts from 1847by Richard Sullivan Fay.

Breughel paints' tulipomania'

 "Persiflage on the tulipomania", 1637, painting by Jan Breughel the Younger (1601-1678)
"Persiflage on the tulipomania", 1637, painting by Jan Breughel the Younger (1601-1678) | Source
Black tulip.
Black tulip. | Source

The history of the black tulip

The idea of the black tulip has fired the imagination over the centuries. In 1672, Alexandre Dumas described in his novel how Cornelius van Baerle discovered 'La Tulipe Noire'. (See below). It wans't until 1891, however that the black tulip became a reality when the Dutch tulip grower Krelage brought a tulip onto the market with the name La Tulipe Noire despite the fact that it was more purple than black.

Other varieties of black tulip followed: Black Parrot, Black Beauty and Black Pearl. In 1895, Grullemans created the Queen of Night. But none of these varieties are a true black colour. During the mid1880's the grower and breeder Geert Jan Hageman had read Dumas' novel and fell under the spell of the mysterious black tulip. He crossed Wienerwald and Queen of Night to create the first tulip that genuinely seemed to be black. Hageman’s dream became reality.

You could grow your own black tulips

Black tulip varieties

  • The Queen of Night tulip cultivar is the most common black tulip. The Queen of Night, a relatively tall perennial tulip reaching heights of 16 inches
  • Negrita
  • Black Swan
  • Black Parrot
  • Black Beauty
  • Black Pearl
  • Recreado cultivars
  • Wienerwald
  • Paul Scherer 45cm high said to be the darkest tulip available, beating old favourite 'Queen of the Night' in comparison trials.
  • Gloria Nigrorum - Black Glory (dating from 1837) Also known as 'Violet Ponceau' and 'La Victorieuse.' It's one of the oldest surviving "Bijbloemen" (purple on white) broken tulips.

Alexandre Dumas
Alexandre Dumas | Source

The Black Tulip, a novel

The Black Tulip was written by Alexandre Dumas. Dumas, a French writer, was born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie 1802 and is best known for his historical novels which include The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After, and The Vicomte de Bragelonne.

First published in 1850, La Tulipe Noire begins with the lynching of the Dutch Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt and his brother Cornelis in 1672. Although this was an historical even the main plot line continues with fictional characters. It is set in the city of Haarlem, Netherlands where a prize of 100,000 guilders will be awarded to the person who can grow a black tulip.


Title screen for Burbank Films Australia's 1988 film "Black Tulip." Restored and enhanced.
Title screen for Burbank Films Australia's 1988 film "Black Tulip." Restored and enhanced. | Source

Read Alexandre Dumas' Black Tulip for yourself

The film of the book

There have been several 'films of the book' and also films entitled The Black Tulip or La Tulipe Noire not based on Dumas's novel:

  1. 1921 a Dutch-UK co-production directed by Maurits Binger and Frank Richardson.
  2. Alex Bryce directed a well-regarded UK adaptation of the novel in 1937, with Patrick Waddington as Cornelus Van Baerle.
  3. 1956 A 5-part BBC mini-series starred Douglas Wilmer in the lead role.
  4. 1970 A second British mini-series was released.
  5. 1988 Australia's Burbank production company created a 50-minute children's animated version of the story.
  6. 1963 a movie called La Tulipe Noire with actor Alain Delon was produced in France (not based on the novel).
  7. 1988 there was also a short Finnish documentary made by Pacho Lanein called The Black Tulip (again not based on the novel, it was based on the story of Soviet soldiers fighting in Afghanistan).
  8. The Black Tulip (2010) directed by Sonia Nassery Cole who also starred in the film. the film is set in Afghanistan and tells the story of the Mansouri family who set up a restaurant after the Taliban was expelled from Afghanistan in 2001.

The Black Tulip film Director: Sonia Nassery Cole

Is there such a thing as a black tulip?

So this brings us to the question, does the black tulip exist? We would clearly like to think it does, but sadly, all the experts are adamant that the black tulip is really only a very deep purple flower. Does that spoil the romance? Not at all. Like the blue rose, the very impossiblity of creating the true black tulip seems to make the image a more potent one.

My tulip is pretty black!

This photo is exactly as I took it - not changed on the computer at all. Although these tulips are a deep burgundy from the outside, look inside and you'll see how black the centre is.
This photo is exactly as I took it - not changed on the computer at all. Although these tulips are a deep burgundy from the outside, look inside and you'll see how black the centre is. | Source
Impossible_Black_Tulip- World_map, panels 1 and 6 (left & right) of the 1602 Ricci map at Museo della Specola, Bologna,
Impossible_Black_Tulip- World_map, panels 1 and 6 (left & right) of the 1602 Ricci map at Museo della Specola, Bologna, | Source

Impossible Black Tulip World Map

The fact that the black tulip cannot exist inspired the romantic name of the most expensive Chinese map in the world. The Impossible Black Tulip was a map created for an Emperor by an Italian Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci, who went to China as a missionary.

The map, drawn in 1602 at the request of the Emperor Wanli, shows much of the world in surprising detail, notably in its depiction of the Americas, which the Chinese were not familiar with. Florida is mentioned as 'The Land of Flowers'.

The black tulip monument

This is a monument situated in Soviet Army Square in Yekaterinburg (also known as Ekaterinburg) Russia. The monument, finished in 1995, bears the namesof those citizens of Yekaterinburg and the Sverdlovsk region who were killed in wars in Afghanistan, Chechnya and other conflicts of the end of the 20th century. It consists of a negative tulip shape containing the hunched figure of a soldier who is surrounded by metal pylons, suggesting the carcass of a plane. The link to our theme lies not only in the shape of the pylons, but also in that the plane bringing home the bodies of soldiers was called the "Black Tulip".

Black tulip: Monument for the 1979-89 Soviet war in Afghanistan (and other Russian wars) in the Russian city Yekaterinburg
Black tulip: Monument for the 1979-89 Soviet war in Afghanistan (and other Russian wars) in the Russian city Yekaterinburg | Source
Tulips at Les Trois Chenes yes, but, as yet, no black ones. I had hoped to have some this spring, but sadly, wickedly hard frosts seem to have done for my lovely, new black tulip bulbs! Beware
Tulips at Les Trois Chenes yes, but, as yet, no black ones. I had hoped to have some this spring, but sadly, wickedly hard frosts seem to have done for my lovely, new black tulip bulbs! Beware

Have you fallen in love with black tulips?

Will you grow to love the black tulip?

See results

Tell me what you think about black tulips

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    • Les Trois Chenes profile imageAUTHOR

      Les Trois Chenes 

      21 months ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      wonder what the problem was? Are black tulips especially difficult?

    • Frances Metcalfe profile image

      Frances Metcalfe 

      21 months ago from The Limousin, France

      Tried growing Queen of the Night, once in the UK, and here in France. No success either time! Expensive misadventure...

    • Les Trois Chenes profile imageAUTHOR

      Les Trois Chenes 

      7 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      Many thanks for your comments, Derdriu. So pleased you enjoyed it. Since writing this I've bought some black tulip bulbs and I'me looking forward to seeing them in the spring.

    • profile image

      Derdriu 

      7 years ago

      Les Trois Chenes: It is so enjoyable, informative and interesting in which you have linked the pursuit of perfection with culture, geography and history.

      Thank you, and voted up etc.,

      Derdriu

    • Les Trois Chenes profile imageAUTHOR

      Les Trois Chenes 

      7 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      Hi Francia, many thanks for your comments. Pleased you enjoyed the lens. They are not my photos, but hope to get some black tulip bulbs so hopefully will have my own pics for spring.

    • franciaonline profile image

      franciaonline 

      7 years ago from Philippines

      Now I know, after reading this hub, that the black tulip has become an obsession for the high and mighty. Just looking at your photos of the black tulips here in your hub makes me fantasize about them myself! Thanks for your informative hub, Les Trois Chenes.

    • Les Trois Chenes profile imageAUTHOR

      Les Trois Chenes 

      7 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      Naomi, thanks for your message. I suppose these flowers are never really black. The lower, large petals on my black iris are very nearly black but the other petals are dark purple. I will order my black tulips this autumn for next spring!

    • Naomi's Banner profile image

      Naomi's Banner 

      7 years ago from United States

      Most beautiful pic the one with the tulips. I bought my first black tulip in 1982 and was a little disapointed it wasn't a true black. It was very beautiful though and I have loved them ever since. Great Hub and very informative.

    • Les Trois Chenes profile imageAUTHOR

      Les Trois Chenes 

      7 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      Thanks so much, Will for your kind words.

    • WillSteinmetz profile image

      WillSteinmetz 

      7 years ago

      Excellent hub! It is insightful.

    • Les Trois Chenes profile imageAUTHOR

      Les Trois Chenes 

      7 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      Thank you so much for the voting up Kitty. There are things that rest in that dream world of the imagination, and for me, the black tulip is one. I grow black irises and perhaps 2012 will be the year of the black tulip at Les Trois Chenes.

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Kitty Fields 

      7 years ago from Summerland

      I have always loved tulips, since I was a little girl. But I had no idea there was such a thing as black tulips. I love these the MOST. Absolutely breathtaking flower, indeed. Great hub. Voted up and beautiful.

    • Les Trois Chenes profile imageAUTHOR

      Les Trois Chenes 

      7 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      Thanks for voting up Movie Master, and for the kind words. I'm looking forward to finding out more about the Black Tulip in all its forms.

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Brilliant hub, I love tulips especially the black ones, lots of interesting information and great photos, thank you and voted up.

    • Les Trois Chenes profile imageAUTHOR

      Les Trois Chenes 

      7 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      Many thanks for those kind words, Gypsy48!

    • Gypsy48 profile image

      Gypsy48 

      7 years ago

      Wonderful hub! Those black tulips are gorgeous.

    • Les Trois Chenes profile imageAUTHOR

      Les Trois Chenes 

      7 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      laral, sure you could have bowl of tulips on windowsill.

      Eiddwen, Many thanks for your kind words. Can't take credit for the photos, but will definitely plant tulips this autumn, so look out for great pics in Spring. (Like this I really have to do it!)

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      7 years ago from Wales

      I loved this hub. So interesting and those beautiful pictures. I push all buttons for this one an look forward to reading many more hubs from you.

      Take care

      Eiddwen.

    • laral profile image

      laral 

      7 years ago from England

      Hi, I wish I could, I don't even have a balcony!! Looking forward to read your next hub.

    • Les Trois Chenes profile imageAUTHOR

      Les Trois Chenes 

      7 years ago from Videix, Limousin, South West France

      Hi laral, great to hear that you're inspired. Perhaps we could both start with a pot outside the front door and go on from there. Many thanks for dropping by.

    • laral profile image

      laral 

      7 years ago from England

      Hi, is me laral again! What a great hub! I didn't know much about Tulips but you have waken up my curiosity. I would go on and plant some Tulips, they deserved a place in your garden after this article.

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