Scams: Dutch Tulip Bulbs

Tulip Bulb Scam

Planning a trip to Amsterdam, and hoping to bring some tulip bulbs home with you as a souvenir? There’s a good chance what you’re buying may not bloom. Even worse? It’s likely intentional.

Last year, the CBC published a story based on an investigation by the tulip growers’ association in Holland. They bought 1364 bulbs at Amsterdam’s famous floating flower market, and planted them. Only one percent of them flowered. They visited another market at Lisse, and found only two percent of those bulbs bloomed. Scandal!

The tulip bulb market in the Netherlands is bigger than you might think – many millions of dollars a year are spent by unsuspecting tourists. The association seems to have found the culprit:

According to [Andre] Hoogendijk, the market sellers in Amsterdam get their supply from one distributor, who the association alleges is buying old bulbs and repackaging them. The KAVB has not named the company they suspect is responsible.

How did this happen? It seems the distributor, or network of distributors, was repackaging old bulbs and selling them as new. Due to the already finicky nature of tulips, most buyers likely believed they did not flower due to their own error. For decades, the flower sellers made out like bandits.

Safely Buying Bulbs

It is possible to purchase legitimate tulip bulbs while on vacation in Holland, but you should visit a local garden center to do so.

As far as transporting them back to your home country, it is important to check with your customs and border enforcement service, but for Americans there are special dispensations for tulip bulbs. Writer Sarahlynn Pablo explains:

Find a vendor who sells tulip bulbs specifically for import back to the US. Don’t let your eyes get too far ahead of you. The choices and variety of tulips at Bloemenmarkt are amazing, but US Customs only allows certain strains of tulips back home.

She goes on to detail the other key details for legal and proper tulip bulb importation. It’s not difficult or onerous, but countries have strict guidelines on importing plant life for a reason – bringing in plants with fungi, pests, or other bacteria can have serious consequences!

So, yes, you can bring back tulip bulbs from your European vacation. Be sure to find the correct type, ensure they are packaged properly, and declare them on your customs form. And, until the authorities have cleaned things up, don’t buy them at the big flower markets in the cities!