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Image by thomas heintz

Bulb full of biodiversity!

Ceramic tulip bulb by artist Rafael Martig

The unveiling of the special ceramic tulip bulb “Tulip Mania Leiden” with the theme of (hidden) soil biodiversity, could not have been more timely with the sun breaking through. This special moment is the crowning achievement of the citizen science project Tulpenmania Leiden and the planter project at the Hortus botanicus Leiden.


Artist and biologist, Rafael Martig, unveils the ceramic tulip bulb he painted, and which is placed in the bulb (display) cabinet in the Hortus.  The sphere stands on a turntable so that all sides can be admired.


The 'Tulip Mania Leiden' bulb shows the difference in biodiversity in and above the ground with healthy soil and soil treated with pesticides.

Completely in keeping with the theme of (bio)diversity, the unveiling of the bulb turned out to attract a very diverse audience. From students to retirees, from researchers to 'citizen scientists', from office workers to tulip growers, artists and journalists. Rafael Martig, who is not only an artist but also a biologist, took the audience along in his own quest to beautifully portray the complex story of research into the still largely unknown soil life. An additional challenge was that painting was not done on a flat plane, but was now in a 3D form. A first for Rafael, with a result that the audience present very much appreciated. (Read here more about Rafael and his work).


Artist and biologist, Rafael Martig, at the presentation of the mini bulb to guests in the garden room of the Hortus.

Organic tulip grower and soil coach Jon Huiberts and his wife Johanna were also present. The organic Tulipa MasterPeace tulips, which are used in the Tulip Mania Leiden research, are cultivated by Huiberts' nursery. 

The entire bulb invites you to look and look again. The tulip bulb “Tulip Mania Leiden” is in a special place: in the bulb (display) greenhouse of the Hortus botanicus Leiden. Rogier van Vugt from the Hortus said that this place was created to beautifully display precious bulbous plants, without the risk of disappearance. The picture is complete with the planters of the Tulip Mania project in the foreground, which formed the inspiration for this special art project.

The festive morning ended with a presentation by Leonie Kaptein from "DNA in Beeld", about the first results of the citizen science project and the planter project. The numbers of different types of bacteria and fungi have been determined in the soil of the winners of the Tulip Mania project (see also here). The winners saw not ten red Masterpeace tulips grow, but nine and one unusual white tulip. The leader was the Kolfmakersteeg with 942 bacterial species and 212 fungal species, the least life was found at the Zijlpoort cemetery with 'only' 89 bacterial species and 297 fungal species. The results of the planter project showed an enormous amount of data, the interpretation of which is still quite a job. In any case, it is encouraging that one year after the start of the planter project, the samples taken from the tulip grower's land fall into the same bacteria and fungal clusters as the planters filled with the tulip grower's soil. Although the soil life of the planters does not exactly match what is found on land, it remains fairly close after one year of being in the planters. This experiment shows that it could be a model system for further controlled studies of different treatments on soil life. Read here more about the results of the Tulip Mania research.

Dr. Leonie Kaptein from DNA in Beeld and initiator of Tulpenmanie Leiden gave a presentation about the background of the project in which she, among other things, talked about the MinION DNA analysis that is used to map soil life. read here more about the MinION technology.   

Dr. Leonie Kaptein from DNA in Beeld and initiator of Tulip Mania Leiden explains what kind of research takes place in the Tulpenmania Leiden planters. The planters are in front of the bulb greenhouse with the ceramic bulb. read here more about the planter project.  

The lively discussion during and after the presentations made it clear that learning is best done together. The practical experience of years of organic tulip cultivation and the ever-developing DNA research techniques cannot be achieved without mutual expertise. It also became clear that the tulip grower would rather start working on the DNA research results today rather than tomorrow. It's good that the students from the Leiden Center for Applied Bio Science, Leiden University of Applied Sciences were present, so that they know what the tulip growers are eagerly waiting for.

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