Tulip Time part 2, Broken Tulips

Semper Augustus was the most desired, most lauded, most rare, and, therefore, most valuable Dutch tulip of the 1600s. Of course, there are no photos from the time of “tulipomania.” Only written descriptions and paintings survive. The bulbs were so scarce, that few ever saw one. A man who owned a few of these tulips rejected offers of 2000-3000 guilders per bulb–a fortune!  In comparison, the famous Dutch artist, Rembrandt, only earned 1500 guilders for his most famous painting, and a well-off Dutch merchant of that era might earn 3000 guilders in a year.


anonymous watercolor of Semper Augustus tulip

Semper Augustus was one of a group of fancifully colored tulips, exhibiting streaks, feathers, or veins of contrasting colors such as white or yellow. Common, solid-hued tulips that bloomed white, red, violet, or yellow one year might blossom the next in delightful new patterns.


These tulips were said to be “broken,” (the original solid color was broken up), and the process of change from a solid color to fantastic streaking was called “breaking.” Of two bulbs of the same color planted together in the same garden bed, one might bloom true, and the other would produce colors that were “broken.”

Tulip growers were mystified. They tried grafting, amending the soil, soaking bulbs in wine, all without success. They did notice that the broken tulips (which had smaller bulbs than standard ones) became weaker each year, until they eventually couldn’t produce a blossom.

Why? They were infected with a virus. Disease-carrying aphids fed on the tulips and transmitted the virus with each “bite.”


Ambrosius Bosschaert, Dutch artist (1573–1620) “Still Life” (note the “broken” tulips)

The famous broken varieties like the Semper Augustus are gone now, and the only tulips available with similar feathery streaks today are the result of cross-breeding. I find it ironic that the most celebrated tulip’s Latin name means “always” (semper) “majestic” (augustus).


*          *           *           *            *

The white dinner plate slipped out of my soapy hands and crashed to the kitchen floor, breaking into hundreds of tiny shards. There was no repairing, no gluing it back together. I swept the pieces into a dustpan, emptied the fragments into a box, and set the box out by the garbage.

Beyond repair. Useless. Garbage. That’s how we feel sometimes, broken by the weight of our own bad choices, cracked by the pressure of sin that has followed us all since the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve took their disobedient bites, they spread the disease of sin and death into the world. It wasn’t God’s original plan, but it wasn’t the end either.


God doesn’t discard us when we are broken. He is moved to compassion. He reaches out to us in tender, loving kindness with a new plan.

Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.   Psalm 51:17   MSG

There is hope for us. We are living creatures, and God can make us into grow into something beautiful. He can take the worst of circumstances and use them.

Remember Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, carried away to Egypt, and yet became second only to the Pharaoh? The Lord was able to take the hatred, violence, and estrangement in Joseph’s family and transform it into a miracle of God’s providence. Joseph recognized the Lord’s hand in the brokenness of his life:

Don’t you see, you [brothers] planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people.

Genesis 50:20   MSG

DSC_6711-002 DSC_6711-001

He can heal our brokenness of spirit. We can bloom beautifully, like the broken Dutch tulips. We are like the Semper Augustus–desired, unique, treasured, even if the virus of sin lives in us. We are so valuable that God sent his only Son to buy us, to save us.

The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:18   NIV


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Refrain:  You are strong
In the broken places
I’m carried in Your arms
You are strong
In the broken places
There’s healing in these scars

Broken Places, from Exhale by Plumb

Martine Red White Tulip

Thanks to Barb Briggs and Martine Burrell for sharing photos.

Posted on April 29, 2015, in Devotional and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Beautiful pictures and beautiful words. It’s like encouragement for me today. When I’m broken, I know He heals me every time I run to Him. Thanks for sharing, blessings to you!

    I’m visiting from The Weekend Brew Link Up, visit my blog also to link up in Words of Comfort. You are welcome!

    Tayrina from TGAWrites

  2. rmclellan1949

    What beautiful tulips to tell a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing. Visiting from the Weekend Brew !!

  3. Constance,
    Thank you for sharing the story about the tulips and for how God loves us so much despite our brokenness…we seem to be on the same wavelength as I also wrote about brokenness…God in His goodness comes and restores us through Christ’s love…the place of brokenness is hard but it is also where I’ve experienced God the most…..blessings to you 🙂

    • It’s wonderful to see how God is whispering the same words to many of us this week, and how He is weaving all our ideas together.
      I’m glad you stopped to visit and comment, Dolly. Thank you.

  4. This was so beautiful!! Thank you. I couldn’t read everything, b/c of my brain issue, but I could look the pictures and rejoice. As I said earlier, thank you!

  5. WOW! Not only was this most interesting to learn, but encouraging words about our brokenness and then the photos are glorious. I am so grateful you are my neighbor at A Field of Wild Flowers.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

  6. The photos of these beautiful tulips are gorgeous! The explanation of the infection/aphids that caused the color streaks in Semper Augustus is fascinating. I love the way you have connected the beauty of the tulips with the way that God can make beauty out of our lives–despite our sin.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the photos of tulips. I have kind and talented friends who contributed some of the pictures. Now that I have been thinking about God making beauty from brokenness, I see it in many other places, not just tulips.

  7. I needed this reminder about brokeness. It is amazing that God can use our brokeness for His glory. The pictures of the tulips are gorgeous, and the information that you shared abour them was very interesting. I hope you have a lovely day.

  8. ambercadenas

    I sure love these tulips, Constance, and the stories they have told you. Your reflections are an outpouring of creativity and grace. Thank you.

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