the end of the 16th century, the fashion for exotic flowers had spread
downward in society. Plant collecting was no longer the exclusive
domain of botanists and well-educated noblemen. The plants
themselves were becoming less rare and more readily available. In
1612, Sweerts published the "Florilegium," a catalog of plants for sale
to the general public. His customer base was still fairly exclusive.
However, sales were enough to support full-scale commercial trade
at at least two locations (Frankfurt and Amsterdam). The flowers
served as important status symbols. Showy and bright flowers were
especially favored. Some of the most popular were crown imperials
(Fritillaria imperialis), columbine (Aquilegia), iris, anemones, tulips,
In following centuries, gardeners turned their attention to new plants discovered in South Africa, Japan, and other remote regions. Plant breeders worked to "improve" the appearance of the old flowers. For example, tulips have undergone major changes; most modern cultivars are taller and have lost the pointed, wavy petals of their ancestors.
Four hundred years later, many of the Elizabethan varieties
are again available commercially. Garden writers are publishing books
about heirloom flowers. Hellebores grace the cover of "Martha Stewart
Living." As the song says, "Everything old is new again."