Black and blue tulips might look good on the packets – but they don’t exist. The KAVB Dutch bulb growers’ association has issued advice to consumers on how to choose and treat tulips, after a report this week showed evidence of ‘misleading sales’ at Amsterdam’s floating flower market on the Singel.
The report, by Amsterdam city council and the KAVB, involved buying 102 packets of bulbs from 15 sellers in the famous and once-authentic market at the end of April this year. The specialist grower BQ support found that only 14 plants – 1% of the 1362 bulbs – produced flowers, and none matched the picture on the packets.
A similar experiment on the flower boulevard in the major flower town of Lisse found only 2% of bulbs bloomed and only one matched its packaging.
‘It was no surprise at all,’ KAVB director Prisca Kleijn told DutchNews.nl. ‘The most important thing for tulips is the moment they are grown: tulips grown in the summer should be sold and planted before January. They need a period of cold and then they will come up in March or April. Between January and the summer you shouldn’t buy tulips as they should have been sold long before then.’
She said that consumers – especially the 19 million tourists who visit Amsterdam each year – also risk being misled by packaging. ‘The colours on the packaging sometimes don’t exist,’ she said. ‘In Amsterdam they sell bulbs promising blue and black tulips…but there aren’t any blue or black tulips, and this is a scam.’
Tulips do come in purple and dark purple, she added, but the packaging should not display impossible shades.
The quality of bulbs is another issue that concerns the experts. When DutchNews.nl visited the flower market earlier this week, some bulbs were out loose in large boxes in the rain, damp and partially sprouting.
Kleijn recommended that a good bulb should look like a good onion. ‘A healthy bulb is hard and whole, and if it is soft or there is rot then it’s no good,’ she said. ‘Although professionals can keep bulbs in special humidity-controlled cool cells for days or weeks, a normal consumer can’t do that: then, it’s better to buy a bunch of flowers.’
Lisa Griek, the executive responsible for the economy in Amsterdam city centre, said the council and KAVB have reported 15 market sellers to the ACM consumer protection body for ‘misleading sales’.
‘The test results were absolutely shocking,’ she said. ‘Tulips in the market are sold all year round and you can’t do that if you want flowers that grow. We are warning tourists but it is up to the regulator to address this structural deception and a pattern where consumers are being misled.’
She added that the city is working with the market sellers on a plan to revitalise the market, which dates back to 1862 when flowers and plants were sold directly to customers from boats moored at the canalside.
However Raphael Chlopnicki, a worker at De Kroon flower seller, at the market, said he had had success growing his stall’s tulips outside his own home, advising people to keep the bulbs cool and dry in the fridge. ‘April is not the moment to plant!’ he added.
DutchNews.nl chose not to buy any flowers at the market. But Werner Dittrich, from Germany, had more faith in his green fingers and even went back for a small bucket of Queen of the Night bulbs after hearing the news of the study. ‘I will try to grow them in my garden,’ he told DutchNews.nl. ‘I love this market!’