BULBOUS PLANTS IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH; PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE

P.K. Schenk
Few of the plants widely grown at present in the gardens of the world were known in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. The total number of species of garden plants occurring more or less generally in this part of the world, increased in the seven centuries from Charlemagne to the end of mediaeval times from about 40 to 90, but in the sixteenth century this number rose to about 300. Around 1600, professional gardeners and dealers began to grow many of these plants to offer and sell them: probably the first regular plant trade in the world and the beginning of the Dutch bulb industry (Van Dijk, 1951; Krelage, 1946).

What has just been said for garden plants in general, also holds for flowering bulbs. In the Dark Ages, only a few species were to be found in gardens: three lilies and very occasionally snowdrops and daffodils but no tulips, gladioli, hyacinths, or bulbous irises and no crocuses - except for the true Saffron - to mention only the most important genera of present-day bulb cultivation.

Most of our knowledge of the early history of bulbs in Western Europe we owe to a few botanists and plant lovers, who were the first to describe the exotic new plants in detail and to record carefully all the facts related to their introduction and growth. Among these botanists we may undoubtedly mention Carolus Clusius (1526–1609) first, without wronging others. His interest in nature, his ability to make sharp observations, and his tendency to experiment, stamp Clusius as the first scientist ever to study this group of plants in the modern sense.

In his writing on tulips, for example, he describes his findings and ideas on morphology, taxonomy, propagation, genetics, senescense, and the influence of environment on growth. He gives a detailed description of the colour break of flowers. "And this also I have observed, that any tulip thus changing its original colour is usually ruined afterwards and wanted only to delight its master's eyes with this variety of colours before dying, as if to bid him a last farewell" (Van Dijk, 1951), which indicates that he was close to the idea of the pathological nature of this phenomenon.

It thus appears that some 400 years after Clusius, most of the subjects he dealt with are still important topics for the First International Symposium on Bulbs. Without exaggeration, we can say that he was the great predecessor of all those attending this congress.

In the 350 years since Clusius, many more new species of bulbs and corms have been introduced into Western Europe. These were carefully described and painstakingly represented, but a fundamentally new scientific approach had to wait until biological theory and research techniques in general reached a more advanced stage. It was not until 1880 that a

Schenk, P.K. (1971). BULBOUS PLANTS IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH; PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE. Acta Hortic. 23, 18-27
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.1971.23.2
https://doi.org/10.17660/ActaHortic.1971.23.2

Acta Horticulturae