HILLEGOM, Netherlands (AP) _ Flower lovers can heave a sigh of relief. The Dutch floods have not menaced the tulips.

``Almost 100 percent of our tulip production is outside of the flooding area,'' Bert Nollen, marketing director at the International Flower Bulb Center, said Thursday.

The tulip, symbol of the Netherlands to the outside world, is cultivated in sandy or clay-like soils concentrated about 100 miles northwest of the flood zone.

The Netherlands produces more than 70 percent of the world's tulip bulbs _ about 3.1 billion _ and exports them to 80 different countries.

``The flooding will have no influence on the prices of tulips and bulbs,'' Nollen said.

The majority of the harvest comes from the Noord Holland province that juts out into the North Sea. Only a few acres lie in the flood zones, said Aad Vollebregt of the Royal Bulb Growers' Association.

Up to 250,000 people fled low-lying farmland areas this week in the worst flood disaster since 1953, when 1,800 died in Zeeland province on the North Sea.

The Dutch fascination with tulips goes way back to 1593, when botanist Carolus Clusius planted the first tulip bulb in Dutch soil after importing it from Turkey.

They are believed to have reached Turkey 600 years earlier from Central Asia.

By 1634, exotic tulips became a status symbol during the Dutch Golden Age with a wildly speculative futures market betting on rare bulb breeds.

In 1944, they helped to keep people alive when wartime famine forced the Dutch to dig up the bulbs, boil and eat them.