On appreciating tulips, the ‘sultans of spring’

Igor Martiniouk/The Miscellany News.

As we settle into the peak of spring, with its clear blue skies and warm let’s-just-sit-outside-and-sunbathe weather, what is most striking to me is not the liberty that comes from wearing shorts (though this is duly appreciated) but rather the blooming of the flowers and trees around campus. I’ve come to admire the nature at Vassar—from the fragrance of magnolia trees to the yellow daffodils—despite the dread of upcoming finals and piled-up papers. What is most lovely right now, laying softly in their recently made plant beds, are the tulips surrounding Main. Though it’s easy to glide past them while wrapped up in our own hectic lives, their presence is a comfort and daily reminder to cherish whatever beauty you can, no matter how miniscule, ephemeral or insignificant it may seem.

Tulips grow from bulbs instead of a fibrous root system, meaning they do not rely on seeds to reproduce. Bulbs are the plant’s underground storage system that holds nutrients and energy. During the winter when the plant is dormant, the tulip stores its energy in the bulb so that in the spring, this energy can be used to develop roots, shoots, leaves and flowers, according to SFGate. By the end of the season, the plant will again store its energy and nutrients in its bulb. The plant can then endure the winter and sustain another growth for the following spring. Bulbs allow the tulip to be highly self-sufficient, not reliant on perfect weather or ideal soil conditions to grow—by nature of the bulb itself, the tulip has the energy it needs to bloom and thrive on its own.

Perhaps it is this independent, self-supporting attitude of the tulip that makes it the perfect flower for spring. In the language of flowers, tulips symbolize rebirth and renewal because they are often the first to bloom in the spring. Charity is also associated with tulips as they mark new beginnings. In 17th-century Holland, in fact, tulips became so popular that Dutch speculators drove the market to crash. Tulipmania, as it is now called, remains as one of the most famous market crashes and bubbles of all time, according to Investopedia. Its delicate beauty and structural strength made the tulip all the more desirable and coveted. And now, we are fortunate enough to see these tulips in their multi-colored fashion around campus.

As winter in Poughkeepsie enlightened all to a new definition of the word “dead,” students around campus appreciated the subtle hints that spring has risen. Katie Wu ’25 warmly expressed her joy towards the flower: “I love the tulips on campus. They’re so pretty and whenever I see them, I know it’s spring time.”

Similarly, Richard Lu ’26 [Disclaimer: Lu is Assistant Social Media Editor for The Miscellany News] noted the violet, white and orange-red tulips planted by the College Center. “Vassar is known to be a beautiful place, so these flowers add an extra touch to the scenery. It’s nice to see some more color around campus.”

Zoe Giles ’25 also insightfully reflected: “There’s not a whole lot of flowers that you can plant in a garden that will bloom this early in the year, but personally having blooms across campus brings me so much joy and improves mental health. It’s nice that they’re choosing to plant so many flowers that will bloom while students are on campus so that we get to enjoy the full beauty of things.”

Indeed, tulips are one of the smaller delights on campus we can look forward to now that they are starting to push their way out of their bulbs into full bloom. And while I hope you do not have a Sylvia Plath-esque reaction to them as she so vividly describes in her poem “Tulips,” I do hope that the flower is able to incite some sort of positive spark in you as you rush to classes or zombie-walk back to the dorms. As Teju Cole illustrates in his PEN/Hemingway Award-winning novel “Open City,” “There were some tulips, Sultans of Spring, I supposed, with large silken petals that were like ears.” 

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