Tulips from Amsterdam? A blooming scam, says probe

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Tulips are displayed for sale at the Amsterdam Flower Market. PUBLIC DOMAIN

Tourists are being ripped off at Amsterdam’s famous flower market, with just one per cent of all bulbs sold at the float-ing bazaar ever producing a blossom, investigators said on Tuesday.

A probe commissioned by the Dutch capital’s municipality and tulip growers also found that often only one flower resembled the pictures on the packaging and that there were fewer bulbs than advertised.

“The probe showed that there is chronic deception of consumers” at the sale of tulip bulbs at the flower market, the Royal General Bulb Growers’ Association (KAVB) said.

“Millions of tourists and day-trippers are being duped,” KAVB chairman Rene le Clercq said in a statement.

Amsterdam and the KAVB have now referred the matter to the Dutch consumer watchdog.

The Amsterdam flower market is one of the city’s most famous landmarks and dates from around 1862, when flower sellers sailed their barges up the Amstel River and moored them in the “Singel” to sell their goods.

Its fame inspired the popular song Tulips from Amsterdam, best known for a 1958 version by British entertainer Max Bygraves.

Today the market comprises of a number of fixed barges with little greenhouses on top. Vendors not only sell tulip bulbs but also narcissus, snowdrops, carnations, violets, peonies and orchids.

But of 1,363 bulbs bought from the Singel and then planted, just 14 actually bloomed, the investigation said.

Investigators found a similar problem along the so-called “flower bulb boulevard” in Lisse, a bulb-field town south of Amsterdam where the famous Keukenhof gardens are also situated.

Since first imported from the Ottoman Empire 400 years ago, tulips “have become our national symbol and the bulb industry a main player in the Dutch economy”, said Le Clercq.

But the “deception about the tulip bulbs is a problem that has been existing for the past 20 years”, he added.

‘Bad bulbs’

The victims are often tourists, KAVB director Andre Hoogendijk said.

“A tourist who buys a bad bulb is not likely to come back,” he told Amsterdam’s local AT5 news channel.

Vendors at the market told AT5 that complaints were known.

“There are indeed stalls here that sell rubbish. That is to everyone’s disadvantage, because it portrays the whole flower market in a bad light,” one unidentified vendor said.

But a spokesperson for the City of Amsterdam said that all vendors were being investigated “and that the results are shocking”.

“So to say that it is only a few stalls is not true,” the spokesperson said in an email.

The probe took place earlier in the year during springtime, the spokesperson said.

“The issue is that you shouldn’t even sell tulip bulbs during the spring. No decent florist shop in Holland does that.”

Tulip bulbs should only be sold between August and December and planted before the start of the (northern hemisphere) winter, in order for the flowers to bloom in spring.