Forcing Tulip Flowers and Lily Bulbs,
business opportunity anyone?

I received an email one day from Netherlands. The sender was looking for Dutch man in Cameron Highlands, who was suppose to be in the business of agriculture especially in the area of planting tulip flowers and has a golf membership in Cameron Highlands. Many people have often mistaken me to be staying way up in the highlands and having intimate knowledge of it too! Alas, I'm just a lowlander occasionally going up to the highlands for a holiday break!

Searching for people was way out of me league, considering my network of contacts amongst the highlander was rather weak. Perhaps one day I might start something up there in the highlands, but looking at it presently, highly unlikely for me to do any start ups at the moment.

Tulips Flowers in Malaysia

AFAIK, growing Tulips was mainly done in Bukit Larut (Maxwell Hill) in Perak. I have not come across any Tulip flower growers in Cameron though I believed there were some lily growers around. This inquiry though left me curious as to the term "forcing tulip bulbs" or "forcing lily bulbs", and so I decided to check out what it meant.

Birds eye view of farms in Cameron Highland.

In the temperate countries, tulips flowers usually bloom abundantly in spring and that there are tulip varieties that bloom on different period. There are the early, mid and late blooming varieties of Tulips and by planting a mixture of these you could get a constant bloom of Tulip flowers for the whole of spring season. Well, so much for the four seasons in Malaysia because we only have eternal summer here, however the highlands seems like a good candidate for eternal spring with its cool climate weather. Perhaps we could get an eternal year round bloom of Tulip flowers in the highlands? Well, I'll leave to the expert farmers to sort it all out.

Forcing Tulips Flowers

So the process of "forcing tulip bulbs" meant that the tulip flower would be tricked into thinking that spring has come and it was time to bloom. Normally tulips are planted in autumn, and during the period of the cold winter, the tulip flowers will keep themselves something like in hibernation and when spring comes, the tulip's bulb spring forth into action and blooms! In order to trick the tulip that spring has come, it needs a simulated winter process, either by way of putting it in a freezer with a temperature of 0°C to 10°C and in a dark environment for a period of between 8 to 16 weeks. However they still need to be watered and their soil still need to be kept moist even in such cold condition.

Tulips flowers comes alive in spring! Tulip picture taken in Araluen Botanic Park, Perth, Western Australia while I was having a vacation there.

Once the time has come, the tulip flowers are moved to bright sunny location with temperature of between 10°C to 18°C for it to bloom. The flowering only last about a week or two depending on the temperature. Cooler temperature meant longer blooming time. I suppose the forcing lily bulbs would be using similar process.

Origin of Tulip Flowers

Curiously, Tulip flowers were not originally from Netherlands but was brought in from Turkey which was then the Ottoman Empire in around the 16th century. Tulip flowers caused quite a big interest during the 17th century in the Netherlands that rich people paid ridiculous sums of money to acquire it as a way of showing off their status and the cultivators profited handsomely during the boom time. However by 1637 the demand dropped substantially and the thriving tulip economy collapse. Thus the "tulip mania" as it was coined by the historian to refer to that period is also metaphorically used to describe a bubble economy.

Commercial Cultivation of Tulip Bulbs

Anyway, coming back to this gentleman from Netherlands, he wanted to export tulip bulbs and lily bulbs to Malaysia and was looking for a suitable person who has the know-how to force tulip bulbs. According to him, it is cheaper to force tulip bulbs then to grow them from scratch on a commercial basis. However in order to efficiently do that, the person importing it must have the knowledge and facility to do it for example, he must have:

  • greenhouse, good soil and irrigation
  • good contacts and network for redistribution of tulip bulbs
  • financially stable enough to pay for the goods in advance

They have been exporting to China, Japan, Vietnam, India and Korea and it seems these countries re-exported them back to Malaysia. And so he was wondering if there is anybody here who would be interested to do this business.

Mind you the quantity he was talking about was not small; he was talking about exporting 500,000 tulip bulbs and 200,000 lily bulbs using sea freight ship out from Netherlands. Europe is quite far away, and I guess it will take as long as 2 months for the cargo to get here. And of course, you will need to have the required agro import permit since this is agricultural produce and dealing with the agricultural department is a big hassle nowadays ever since they implemented some crazy online import permit application, the cost of getting an import permit became very tedious and expensive! (Last time all you need to do was go to the agro department, submit a form with a wang pos of RM15 and wait for about week to get your permit and that was it. In the name of efficiency and progress, now you have to apply with some IT company for an e-account and pay a ridiculous RM200 deposit for which they will deduct as you apply for permit plus some charges for using their facility, but what if I only import once only, then what? Talk about a step backwards in efficiency and cost!)

Well, anyway, if there is indeed any enterprising entrepreneur who would like to take this business opportunity to import tulips and lilies, you could contact this person . In the meantime, if you ever come across some tulip flowers or lilies, you now have some idea of their background historically and agriculturally.


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