of the Royal Horticultural Society 12(2) :255-260
By Mr. James Douglas, F.R.H.S.[Read March 11, 1890.]
This genus of plants has been well known to cultivators for many years, but it may be safe to assert that not at any previous period of their history have they been so popular as they are now, and as flowering plants for the adornment of the greenhouse or conservatory in the months of March and April they are of the greatest value. Nearly the whole of the original species in cultivation have been introduced from South America, and the beautiful garden varieties now in cultivation have been obtained by crossing and inter-crossing those species.
It is to me a great pleasure to trace the history of this or any other favourite garden-flower from the earliest period of their culture in gardens to the present time, and it is of much interest to us to know who cultivated and improved our garden favourites, or began the work that we are now able to continue. Our present subject has not a very early history, for, with the exception of the well-known Sprekelia formosissima, a close ally, which was introduced to Europe in 1598, no sort of Hippeastrum was introduced until more than a century later.
The Sprekelia is not admitted into the genus Hippeastrum, and cannot be crossed with it, and seldom produces seeds in England; but it may be interesting to remark here that Colonel Trevor Clarke gave me a few seeds of the variety glauca, which he had saved in his garden, and they germinated freely. Parkinson figured this Sprekelia in the "Paradissus," 1629, and described it as the 'Indian Daffodil with a red flower.' The Vallota purpurea is a greenhouse plant that is by some supposed to be a Hippeastrum, but it is also outside this genus. Some persons do not cultivate it successfully. I find it does well in peaty soil, and likes a sunny corner of the greenhouse with plenty of water. Dean Herbert states in his "Amaryllidaceae," page 134, on the authority of Dr. Burchell, "that it was the only bulb of the order that he found growing in boggy peat in Africa. It delights so much in wet that it will thrive even in water."
One of the earliest species introduced to our gardens is H. Reginæ, figured in the Botanical Magazine, tab. 453. It has very handsome flowers, which, as far as we know, opened for the first time in Mr. Fairchild's garden at Hoxton in 1728, "when the late Dr. James Douglas caused a figure of it to be drawn, and wrote a folio pamphlet on it, he gave it the name of Lilium Reginae, because it was in full beauty on the 1st of March, which was the late Queen's birthday." The roots came from Mexico.
H. vittatum was introduced about the year 1760, and Mr. Baker states in his handbook that there is a dried specimen in the British Museum from the garden of a Mr. Malcolm, dated 1777. It is a distinct and good species, well figured in the Botanical Magazine, tab. 129, where it is stated it was introduced from the Cape by Mr. Malcolm. H. equestre is another of the very early introductions. Mr. Baker says it was noticed by Hermann in 1698. But, according to the "Hortus Kewensis," it was not introduced until 1778. Soon after that date it is recorded as flowering in several collections about London, and it is well figured in the Botanical Magazine, tab. 305. H. psittacinum is an early and important species, introduced in 1814 from South Brazil. It is figured in the Botanical Register, tab. 199, from flowers obtained from W. Griffin's hothouses in South Lambeth, and it is stated that the flowers were perhaps the most beautiful of this splendid genus. In 1819 H. aulicum was introduced, and also flowered in the South Lambeth garden of Mr. Griffin; H. solandriflorum about 1820; and as this, H. aulicum, and all the species of any importance introduced at this time are well figured in the Botanical Magazine or Register, or both, we have full knowledge of their flowering, as well as the dates of their introduction. We also know; from Dean Herbert's work ("The Amaryllidaceae") that the first hybrid Hippeastrum raised in England was Johnsoni, or regio-vittatum; it was raised in the year 1810 by a person named Johnson, who had a small garden in Lancashire, and he thought it was a cross between vittatum and Sprekelia formosissima. Dean Herbert produced the same plant by crossing vittatum with Reginae in 1811. It may be interesting here to remark that Dean Herbert raised an immense number of seedlings by careful hybridising from 1811, until his death, in his gardens at Mitcham, Highclere, and Spofforth. His hybrids were named by a union of the specific names of the parents. Thus a hybrid between aulicum and vittatum was named aulico-vittatum; between reticulatum and Johnsoni, reticulato-Johnsoni, &c., through a long series of crosses, which are fully described at page 142 of the "Amaryllidaceae." The name of Heer S. A. de Graaff, of Leyden, should be introduced here as a raiser and cultivator of Hippeastrums. I am informed by Heer de Graaff that this firm has cultivated Hippeastrums since 1790; but only one species was known to be cultivated at that early date, viz.. vittatum. Later, when fulgidum and crocatum were introduced, these were used as seed or pollen bearers, with the seedlings from vittatum. Heer de Graaff says in his note to me that his father crossed fulgidum, crocatum, Johnsoni, and vittatum over and over amongst themselves, and he obtained rich dark colours, but small flowers. The present Heer de Graaff began working amongst them in 1862, and obtained the best species and varieties with large flowers to hybridise with, amongst them psittacinum. From the seedlings handed down to him by his father and granduncle he obtained numerous remarkably fine forms, of all shades of colour, as well as waxy-white varieties. In recent years he says: "We now cross only the best forms with the colours we want, and never fall back on the species." As to the time the seedlings take to produce their flowers, the Leyden strain can be flowered in four years from the seeds, the Leopoldi and pardinum strain in two years.
The bulbs are stored on shelves until they are ready to be repotted early in the year, when the soil is shaken out from the roots; but the roots are carefully preserved. They are repotted about the middle of February; but Heer de Graaff adds, they would rather do it early in January if convenient, They are in flower from four to six weeks from the time of potting, and are plunged in a bottom heat of tan, which is preferred to all others; the temperature of the house is about 60°. The fine Hippeastrum Empress of India was raised here by crossing psittacinum with Graveanaónot the French variety, but a seedling of their own. Heer de Graaff further adds that the foliage is cut off in November; the bulbs receive no water after this nor during their whole period of rest.
Messrs. Kelway & Son, of Langport, Somerset, began seventeen years ago a system of culture that seems well worth notice. Messrs. Kelway have exhibited their strain both in the form of cut flowers and plants at several meetings of the Society, and as decorative subjects for the greenhouse or conservatory the strain is admirably adapted, Mr. James Kelway was good enough to write me details of the culture practised at Langport.
Writing on January 29, he says:—"We are now commencing to plant our seedlings and offsets in unheated span-roofed frames; these frames are 9 feet wide, with wooden sides and ends. They are placed over the ordinary soil of the garden in an open position. The soil, after it has been enriched with old hotbed or cow manure, with a liberal supply of yellow sand, is ready for planting. The bulbs are planted in drills from 6 to 9 inches apart, and from 3 to 6 inches asunder in the drills; they are also planted from 2 to 4 inches deep, according to size, They remain in these frames two or three years, and by that time they are large enough to flower. In winter they are protected by straw being placed over the bulbs under the glass, and mats outside. When the bulbs are dug up in the autumn, all of them large enough to flower are planted in pots, the smaller ones being again planted out in the unheated frames. They flower in April, May, and June, but isolated bulbs produce flowers all through the season.
Messrs. Kelway grow twenty thousand bulbs in this way.
I may just add that I am quite well aware of the great work carried on now for many years in the nurseries of Messrs. James Veitch & Sons, Chelsea; but as their Mr. Harry J. Veitch has also prepared a paper on this subject, it will be best to leave it entirely in his hands. As a cultivator of these plants, and a raiser of seedlings, I may claim to be successful, and will shortly describe the system of management we have pursued for many years.
First, as to propagation. This is effected by seeds, and by offsets from the roots. Some varieties are much more difficult to hybridise than others. For instance, I have tried year after year to obtain seeds from the variety John Heal, and have managed to get three seeds in as many years. On the other hand, the very handsome variety Empress of India has produced 700 seeds from one flower-scape composed of five flowers. This is an exceptionally free-seeding variety, and has been the parent of many good garden forms. The structure of the flowers is such that anyone may be able to hybridise them. The seeds are usually ripe in August, and should be sown immediately. They soon germinate in a nice bottom beat, and in the course of a month or six weeks after the plants appear above ground they may be pricked out in boxes or flower-pots. I plant ten or a dozen plants in a 6-inch pot. The plants grow freely to the end of the season, nor do they cease growth all the winter. We keep them rather dry at the roots, and repot again about the first week in February—this time three plants in a 5 or 6 inch pot, and this will be space enough for them to grow in all through the season; and if they have been well cared for they will each have produced bulbs about the size of a bantam's egg. Next season these bulbs must be repotted singly, and after another season's growth will be all strong flowering bulbs. Culture of offsets is as simple as the raising of seedlings. There is but one time that offsets may be removed from the parent plant, and that is when the old bulbs are repotted in January. We shake them out of the pots, and all offsets with a bit of root attached to their base are removed, and planted in pots according to their size; but an error is more likely to occur in over than in under potting. Light compost should be used, and a little clean sharp sand must be placed around each bulb.
The flowering bulbs are also carefully potted, after being cleaned from all dead and decaying roots, &c. We are also in this careful not to use too large flower-pots for them. I have had and have now bulbs of Empress of India, and seedlings from it, 18 inches in circumference, but never use pots larger than 8 or 8 1/2 inches diameter, inside measurement; the larger number of bulbs go into 6 and 7 inch pots. All the pots are plunged to the rims in tan beds as they are prepared at the potting-bench. The potting soil is composed of fibrous loam, two parts; good dry fibrous peat, one part; one part leaf-mould; and a barrow-load of manure to six of the loam and peat, with sand added to keep the mass open. The temperature of the house should be 50° at night to start with, rising 10° as it is seen that the bulbs have started to grow. The main collection will be in flower about the end of March. When in flower they may be taken from the hothouse and be placed in the greenhouse or conservatory, where the flowers remain longer in good condition. When the flowering period is over the plants must not be pushed into some out-of-the-way corner where they cannot get light and heat. They require a hothouse temperature to get up the bulbs to their original plumpness, and to lay the foundation for an abundant flowering time next year. When the bulbs rush into flower and leaf in the early spring, the entire substance of the bulbs seems to go with them, and it requires much care to bring them up to a satisfactory condition again. The leaves must be kept clear from all insect pests, and they must be shaded from the sun in hot weather during the summer months.