The Gardeners' Chronicle Jan 19, 1884.
pp. 58-59, 79.
E. Bonavia, M.D.
SOME of my hybrids showfirst, that fine forms and colours
may be obtained by simply crossing some common varieties, and second, that
the various forms not considered sufficiently good to retain may, nevertheless,
be made to serve a scientific purpose. Thus, not only new and charming varieties
for the florist's collection can be raised, but also types which may have great
value to the botanist. These various types are either new forms, or reversions
to some ancestral types. In the latter case the hybridiser calls them up,
as if by magic, from the depths of oblivion, and presents them to the scientific
eye as most interesting objects. I think it possible by this means for a
botanist, with extensive knowledge of the Amaryllidaceae, to put together,
so to speak, a history of the Amaryllisor, in other words, to recover
the extinct forms through which the Amaryllis has passed. If hybridisers kept
a record (a sort of stud-book) of all they did, it would, after five or ten
years, give a most interesting collection of facts, by which, very probably,
some important laws might be revealed.
I believe that the bars on the petals of A. reticulata are merely a repetition of the stripes along the middle of its green leaves; that A. vittata, which has similar bars on its petals, is a near relative of A. reticulata, and that it got its bars from the same source, viz., the green leaves; but that in course of time the stripes on the leaves of the vittata disappeared, or probably were originally inherited only by the petals. That the one flowers in autumn and is evergreen, and the other in spring and is deciduous, in my opinion signifies little. In this climate [India] the spring-flowering ones retain their old leaves till and during the time they flower again next spring, and do not get their new crop of leaves till after flowering. Moreover, some of the same spring-flowering ones give a few spikes again in autumn. I have now about a dozen seedlings, obtained by crossing two such last autumn, so that it is not impossible in this manner, and by continued selection, to obtain a breed of autumn-flowering Amaryllis from the purely spring-flowering ones.
The Amaryllis equestris, in many of its descendants, produces a distinct incipient bar at the base of each petal. I have a hybrid, named Cavalier, which is scarlet, with a well defined creamy star; each limb of the star has a well defined creamy bar, edged on each side with green. Whether this bar belongs to the original equestris or has been obtained in this hybrid by a cross with others I cannot tell.
The Amaryllises which have bars along their petals, or a tendency to them, have their venation rather peculiarly disposed. Here a little dissection may not be amiss. For instance, let us take Mrs. Garfield. The upper and outer petal has a set of coloured veins on each side of the bar, which I would call feathers. The two upper and inner petals have also two feathers. The latter petals are, as a rule, the most brilliantly marked. The two lower and outer petals, although of the same size and form as the upper, have only one feather on the upper side of the bar; while the lower and inner petal is quite distinct from all the others, is smaller and altogether of a different character: it is generally without a bar, and often without any distinct venation. It reminds one of the labellum of an Orchid.
I never look at an Amaryllis without thinking of an Orchid. Although at first sight the Amaryllis would seem a regular flower; it is in reality, in some particulars, almost as irregular as an Orchid. In botanical books the structure of an Orchid is referred to a diagram, in which a posterior petal is represented in the inner whorl, but which is stated to be frequently [almost always] anterior by the twisting of the ovary. Curiously enough, I have a hybrid Amaryllis which I named Ulta, and which has most of its flowers upside downthat is, with the odd petal (or labellum) uppermost, while the stamens and pistils repose on the main outer petal, which is lowermost. It may not, therefore, be impossible that Ulta is more like the typical Amaryllis, and that the one usually met with has its ovary twisted, as to bring the labellum lowermost. Such phenomena are not uncommon. In the Papilionaceae the vexillum is usually uppermost, but in Clitoria it is lowermost; and in a peloric form of the Clitoria I once had the flower consisted of a whorl of five equal sized vexillum-shaped petals. Orchids have one or two stamens, but it is supposed that the remaining five or four are suppressed. Orchids have a one-celled ovary, but in Aspostasia [and Selenipedium] there are three cells, like that of the Amaryllis. Further, some of my Amaryllises had their pollen in little masses or bars, which would not adhere to the brush on my pressing them between my fingers they were resolved into the elementary pollen grains. Finally, when in Florence, I saw an Amaryllis which was called robusta. It had the form of a Sprekelia, and its bulb, although planted under the soil, was, they said, invariably pushed above the soil. This character might be taken to point to another link between the Orchid and the Amaryllis.
The distinct character of what I call the labellum in the Amaryllis points, I take it, to some distinct office. The upper three petals, or perhaps five of the petals, were probably intended by their colour and markings to attract insects, while the labellum may have, in some ancestral form, served to protect the stamens and pistil, somewhat after the fashion of the carina in the Pea. It is not unlikely, moreover, that all the three lower petals may have served the latter purpose, or at Ieast the lower halves of the two lower and outer petals and the labellum. There is a feature in the Amaryllis which I have not seen noticed. At the very bottom of the funnel, at the entrance into the nectary, and where the short bristles of the upper petals project inwards, some kinds have a damson-coloured eye. A scarlet Amaryllis which I got from Holland, however, has a deep crimson eye, which contrasts prettily with the green centre. This eye might, in course of time, perhaps, be made to expand, and so add to the beauty of the flower. The bristles above-mentioned appear to serve the purpose of preventing small insects from getting at and robbing the nectar without fertilising the pistil. The long proboscis of a moth, or some such insect, could easily penetrate through the fringe while it balanced itself over the pistil. The damson eye round the fringe has probably served-to catch the eye of the insect, so as to enable it to direct its proboscis to the entrance of the nectary.
I would end this notice of the structure of the Amaryllis by observing that most of the leaves are wonderfully adapted to collect the dew and conduct it down to the bulb. They are expanded towards the tip and contracted towards the base. By this form of leaf it would appear that the natural habitat of the Amaryllis is in dry climates, subject to night dews. Is this so?
Besides the division of outer and inner petals in the Amaryllis there is another, viz., of upper and lower petals. The former consists of one outer and two inner petals, and the latter of two outer and one inner. This division is seen in an exaggerated form in Sprekelia, in A. robusta of Florence, in my Formosa, San Marco, and others. It is also visible in almost any Amaryllis which has been fortunate enough to have retained its irregular form the venation of the three upper petals being almost always different from that of the lower three. When in Florence in 1880-81 I saw a coloured lithograph of Amaryllis Professor Santarelli. This hybrid was raised by Signor Emilio Bonafedi, gardener to the above Professor. It had the form of the Sprekelia, but the colouring was different, and the petals broader. Its raiser told me it was a cross between A. vittata and robusta. Besides horticultural charm I thought it had great scientific interest. Taking into consideration the A. robusta (of Florence), A. Professor Santarelli, and some of my own hybrids, I have little doubt in my mind that Sprekelia as a separate genus has no raison d'être, and that it should revert to Amaryllis formosissima. While in Florence I tried hard to obtain seeds of the latter, both by self-fertilisation and by crossing it with others I had, but I never succeeded. However; in one of the numbers of the Garden I noticed that a Mr. John Farquharson, of the Acton Nursery, Wrexham, had exhibited in London an Amaryllis which was stated to have been the result of a cross between Sprekelia and an Amaryllis. Very little notice was taken of it, as it was stated it did not come up to Veitch's Amaryllises. I took great interest in this cross, and wrote to Mr. Farquharson. He sent me a bloom to Florence by post. It was rather faded; the colour approached that of the Sprekelia, but the form was that of an ordinary Amaryllis. The possibility of the Sprekelia crossing with the Amaryllis, although with difficulty, is an additional reason for considering it an Amaryllis. The difficulty of effecting this cross may probably be less than that required for self-fertilising any Amaryllis.
As to its being formosissima there can hardly be any question, even in these days of regular florists' flowers. For my part, I think its form lovely, and the splendour and richness of its colour are in my opinion not easily matched. It appears to have been longest known in Europe. According to Shirley Hibberd it was introduced into Spain in 1593. It appears to me very probable that it was the original form from which the "Fleur-de-Lys" of France and the "Giglio Fiorentino" were copied. The latter appears on the coat of arms of Florence, and is to be seen in that city on various shields. [While Iris florentina is common in the fields around the city ED.]
As so many are beginning to interest themselves in the cultivation of the Amaryllis a great desideratum appears to me is a cheap work giving 1st, coloured illustrations and descriptions, history, &c., in chronological order, of all the original Amaryllises, with their habitats and climate, their discoverers and introducers; 2d, coloured illustrations and descriptions of the most striking and distinct hybrids, descendants of the above, with their parentage, raisers, time of flowering, &c., and if possible with the various steps by which the most perfected forms have been obtained. Many of them have been figured and described, but they are scattered, and not readily accessible. If any one interested in this matter would collect and publish all that is known about the Amaryllis, with coloured figures, he would, I think, do a great service to the Amaryllis-loving public. With sufficient time and patience such a work should not be difficult, but in order to make it as useful as possible its price should be moderate. There are many amateurs, no doubt, who could tell us a great deal about their experiments in crossing the Amaryllis. Professionals, of course, could tell us much more. I have little doubt that many curious forms, the result of hybridising, have been thrown away or are lost, because they did not come within the definition of a florist's flower. These, nevertheless, as I have said, might have been invaluable to a genealogist, in enabling him to decipher the various stages through which the Amaryllis may have passed in its struggle for existence, up to the time of its discovery, when it came under the care and manipulation of man. Instead of throwing them away, these curious, and probably distinct glimpses of the past history of the Amaryllis might be preserved, and made over to some botanical society; thus might be brought together in course of time a collection of immense interest to the student of the origin of species. Here I should like to make a few remarks on the last part of Shirley Hibberd's lecture. He says that the funnel of the Amaryllis is objectionable. I would ask why? He admires, I suppose, the lovely form of the Convolvulus; then why should not a funnel, approaching that of the Convolvulus, be an addition to the beauty of the Amaryllis? He does not object in toto to the green colour at the bottom of the funnel, I am glad to find, because, in my opinion, if the green approaches the shade of the inside of a Melon or Cucumber it is simply charming.
It might be well enough for an individual to encourage a particular type for which he may have a fancy, but I think when a Society does the same thing it becomes different. It is hardly the office of a Society to set a fashion by giving prizes for a particular form of a particular flower. Its office, I should say, is to encourage general excellence in all directions. Would a Society be wise, for instance, in offering a prize for making the form of an Orchid regular? Beauty and excellence, one can safely say, are not qualities that can be restricted to any particular type. It does not consist in anything being round, or broad, or large, or this or that. It may have none of these qualities, and still be very beautiful. You hear that so and so exhibited an Amaryllis which had all the qualities of what an ideal Amaryllis should be. But I would ask of what form is this idealthat of the formosissima, or that of the Leopoldi? It is evident that the former must have been thought most beautiful, otherwise the specific name would hardly have been given. As far as my own taste is concerned, I really think it formosissima, and should gladly wish to see two or more ideals set up.
See what happened to the Dahlia. First, nothing but a globe"the great ideal"was admissible, with each petal disposed as if by rule and square; no Dahlia was perfect unless it submitted itself to this torture. Then came the Cactus Dahlia, which had none of the above qualities. It was nevertheless a marvel of beauty; and now every one praises the loveliness of the single Dahlia. Probably the time will come when to possess a globular Dahlia will be a sort of crime. It is no wonder that some people rebel against all these vagaries, and go to the fields and mountains to enjoy the wild flowers just as Nature made them. When a Society puts the "hall mark" on certain flowers with certain qualities a fashion is set up which small horticulturists cannot afford to despise if they wish to sell their plants. But a large horticultural society and amateurs who care not to sell their plants ought to be above this, and should strive for excellence, independently of fashion. I do not mean to say that societies have not done wonders in encouraging the growth, introduction, and improvement of flowers and plants, and in disseminating knowledge of them; but this I say, that societies have been, and may continue to be crotchetty, and prevent us from deriving the maximum of enjoyment we might from the floral world. After all I have said, I fully admit that in the Republic of Horticulture one should do as he pleases with his own. Of course a person who lives by this profession must do what he can, or what pleases others; at the same time I have a notion that there are more ways than one for improving a flower.
SPEAKING generally, perhaps those plants which have not been "sat upon" by a special society have given, I think, the most charming varieties. What has the Auricula Society done for this plant? I saw some exhibitions of Auriculas, and I was always struck with the idea that this plant was cramped within certain artificial rules by prizes and encouragement of certain restricted characters. I am not aware whether a Fuchsia Society is in existence, but judging from the many charming varieties of this graceful plant I should say not. Now that the Amaryllis is becoming popular, it is hoped that its cultivation may not be cramped by hard and fast rules, such as "so many inches of length and breadth of petal;" "the funnel is to be extinguished," &c. Every point encouraged should have some good reason, and not be dependent on the mere fancy of an individual. I should say, for instance, as to
Form.The flower should be so expanded as to show as much of each petal as possible without ceasing to form a continuous whorl-that is, the petals should not cease to overlap somewhat, in order that the maximum of display should be given to the detail of each petal. Then, with the above conditions, the broader and longer the petals are the more of the flower there will be to see and admire. It is doubtful, however, whether a plate-shaped Amaryllis would be as beautiful as a Convolvulus-shaped one, other things being equal. I would not say that the Lilium candidum is more lovely than the L. auratum, but that both are very beautiful. One of my hybrids, which I named Carina, has a narrow tube, and a limb only 4 inches across, but looking at it from the front it is a little gem. It is symmetrical all round; the colour is a shade lighter than Turkey-red, and it displays in the centre a perfect white star, with all its points and rays. In this case the tube is not seen at all from the front, as it is of a greenish-white, and merges into the star. Speaking generally, and with more reference to the Amaryllis in a wild state, I should say the narrower the tube the less of beauty is there in it to display, and that the wider and more expanded the tube the finer its interior is. In the former the tube is out of the race, and the attraction to insects is made by the contrast between the colouring of the throat and the limb. In the latter the tube also enters into competition with the limb and throat, and takes on brilliant colouring and feathering to invite the attention of insects.
Size.As a rule large flowers, caeteris paribus, are more striking to the mind than small ones, provided the eye can take in the whole flower at one view.
Substance.Flowers with substantial petals are very desirable. They last longer, look more self-supporting, and stand wind and dryness of atmosphere better than wafery petals.
Colour.This depends a great deal on idiosyncracy, and may range from pure white to the intensest crimson, scarlet, carmine, &c., with all their combinations and variegations. For my part I would prefer an intense Pomegranate-red, or the colour of a blood-red French Poppy, such as would "mesmerise" me and make me look at it almost for ever. Others might prefer other colours.
The smoothness of the petals is a fine thing, but this, with prettily crisped edges, makes a most charming combination. The straightness, curvature, pointedness, or roundness of the petals gives additional character to a fine flower. Sometimes a little twist to the outer or to all the petals, as I have seen, gives piquancy to the outline. I would here remark that some varieties which have not overlapping petals might nevertheless possess an incomparable beauty. Such, in my opinion, is Amaryllis formosissima. If its petals could be made to overlap, like those of an ordinary Amaryllis, it would hardly continue to be called the most charming Amaryllis.
A word about naming varieties of cultivated plants. There is an admitted physiological fact regarding the limit of our memory. This varies in every individual, but I think there is no doubt that, however elastic the memory may be, it is not, infinite. Therefore considering the many names civilised man has to remember, not only in one language, but in many, one should be considerate, and give as short a name as is possible. It would appear that the crossing of plants is on the increase, and therefore the varieties requiring names may be infinite. It seems therefore a needless burden and worry to the mind to have to remember a long name, when a short one would do as well. Should I be justified, for instance, in calling a plant Amaryllis Vicomtesse Louise de Montmorency pulcherrima when Sappho would do? The former requires the aid of a dictionary to remember it, while the latter can be dealt with in printing, writing, and talking, with scarcely an effort. In this case a society might exercise a beneficial influence and refuse certificates to plants which have unspeakably long [or inappropriate] names. I have some records of crossing of my Amaryllis which may be interesting to students of the Darwinian theory. but these I must leave for some future occasion. In the meantime, if hybridisers would publish now and again records of their work, with their experience of the best way of giving effect to the action of the pollen on the pistil, they might do very useful and interesting service.
E. Bonavia, M.D., Surgeon-Major, Etawah.