JOURNAL OF THE ROYAL HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY 12(2): 243-255
THE HIPPEASTRUM (Amaryllis)
By Mr. Harry Veitch, F.R.H.S, F.L.S.
(Read March 11, 1890.)
In making the following remarks on the Amaryllis, I wish to commence by saying that it is not my province to deal with the botanical so much as with the practical side of the subject. For botanical information on this most interesting class of plants I cannot do better than refer you to the "Classification of the Species of Hippeastrum," by Mr. J. G. Baker, in the Journal of Botany for 1878, page 79, and to a "Lecture on the Amaryllis," given before the Royal Horticultural Society on March 27, 1883, by Mr. Shirley Hibberd, the substance of which was published in the Gardeners' Chronicle of March 31 following. But on the very threshold of the subject that is to occupy our attention to-day I am met by a question of nomenclature that cannot be ignored. Are we wrong in continuing to call these grand flowers after the name of the Virgilian nymph, and should we therefore drop the pleasing appellative with which they have been almost indissolubly connected from our earliest memory, and substitute the rougher Hippeastrum for the softer Amaryllis? I do not propose to travel over ground already familiar to many of you further than is necessary for the sake of clearness, but it does seem desirable that the question should be impartially considered from a horticultural standpoint, with a view of setting at rest some uncertainty still prevailing on the subject.
The following short retrospect will, I trust, bring the matter clearly before you. Linnaeus selected the name of the Virgilian nymph Amaryllis—
Tityre, lentus in umbra,
Formosam resonare doces Amaryllida sylvas—
for the lovely South African Belladonna Lily; and when, subsequently, bulbs from the West Indies and South America were brought to Europe, and were found to produce flowers closely resembling in form that of the Cape Belladonna, they were brought under the same genus. It is interesting, nay useful, to look back sometimes into the distant past, both of science and horticulture, if we wish to measure the strides that have been made in both up to our own times. The Amaryllis affords a striking example of what has been done. Not only were many species now referred to Hippeastrum figured and described by the older botanists as Amaryllises, but also a number of others since separated under various generic designations as Vallota, Griffinia, Sprekelia, Lycoris, &c. These were all called Amaryllis pretty much after the same manner as all epiphytal Orchids were called Epidendrums in the days of our great-grandfathers.
The beauty of the Amaryllids could scarcely fail to attract the attention of amateurs. I use the word Amaryllids in the broader sense of including any plants belonging to the Natural Order of which Amaryllis Belladonna supplied the type, under whatever generic name they may be at present known. The facility with which the bulbs could be imported alive, even in the age prior to steam navigation, created for them a demand that could be supplied without much risk; and in the first decades of the present century collections of exotic plants from the far East and from the far West consisted chiefly of bulbous plants and Orchids. Among the amateur collections of Amaryllids formed at the beginning of this century, that of Mr. Griffin, at South Lambeth seems to have been exceptionally well cared for and rich in species; the name of the owner is kept in remembrance by the genus Griffinia. Another collection, formed by a clergyman at Spofforth, in Yorkshire, was destined to become famous throughout the world by reason of the series of important results, both to science and to horticulture achieved by the untiring zeal and energy of its owner, who minutely studied, assiduously cultivated, and experimented upon every species of his favourite family be could procure. This was that good old Churchman, Dean Herbert, who published the results of his investigations from time to time in the Botanical Magazine, the Botanical Register, and the Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London. Dean Herbert not only cultivated his bulbs for the sake of their flowers, but he seeded them, crossed and intercrossed them, and even fertilised species with their own pollen as well as with the pollen of other species. In fact, he varied the circumstances in every possible way, making discoveries so remarkable and so unexpected that in that pre-Darwinian age, when the operations of Nature were often imperfectly interpreted, and even wrongly interpreted, the good clergyman incurred no small amount of reproach for promulgating facts and deducing inferences from them that were far in advance of the prevailing notions of his time.
Herbert seeded the Belladonna Lily; he also seeded the American Amaryllises, and found, as we or anyone else may find, that the seeds of the latter differ essentially from those of the former, for while the seeds of the Belladonna are few in number, large and bulb-shaped like those of a Crinum or a Clivia (Imantophyllum), those of the American Amaryllises are numerous, flattened, and have a dark-coloured skin like those of a Pancratium or Zephyranthes. He, however, discovered more than this, for after several trials he found that the Cape Belladonna would not cross with the American Amaryllises, a fact that we have ourselves demonstrated experimentally, On these grounds, but technically on the characters of the seeds only, Herbert separated the American from the South African species, retaining the Linnaean name Amaryllis for the latter, which is monotypic, and founding for the former a new genus, which he called Hippeastrum, or the Knight's Star-Lily, following the idea which suggested the name equestre for one of the species.
Herbert's new genus was not immediately accepted by the most eminent systematists of his time. Dr. Lindley, during his editorship of the Botanical Register, declined to recognise it, but admitted it some years later into his "Vegetable Kingdom." Endlicher did not adopt it in his "Genera," published in 1841, nor in the later editions. And, lastly, when we introduced pardina from Peru through Pearce, and on the occasion of its first flowering it was figured in the Botanical Magazine (tab. 5655), Sir J. D. Hooker wrote: "The genus Hippeastrum of Herbert, which includes many American species of Amaryllis, differs from the South African type by such very slight and variable characters that it cannot be regarded as of any practical value, and I therefore follow Endlicher in regarding it, together with its allies Zephyranthes, Nerine, Vallota, &c., as sections of the great and widely diffused and very natural genus Amaryllis." Now Mr. Shirley Hibberd, when discussing this question before the Society on March 27. 1883, said: "In the Botanical Magazine it was an Amaryllis (using the word in a collective sense) for a period of about 80 years ; then it became a Hippeastrum for a period of 45 years; but, in describing pardina, the original generic designation was restored by Sir Joseph Hooker, Linnaeus triumphed, and Amaryllis is herself again." That triumph, however, was but shortlived. At the very time Mr. Shirley Hibberd was addressing these words to the Society, the final sheets of the "Genera Plantarum," the greatest monument of botanical labour of our time, were passing through the press, and, when the concluding part was issued, it was found that Herbert's Hippeastrum had been retained, and not that only, but also the other genera separated by him from Amaryllis are established nearly as he left them. Thus the Dean has finally triumphed, for the question is settled for our lifetime at least. Nevertheless, the name Amaryllis is so closely, if not indissolubly associated with these plants in horticultural nomenclature, that its separation from them is not likely to be popularly effected for some time to come, but in deference to our botanical friends the correct name Hippeastrum is used in this paper.
The present race of Hippeastrum has for its ancestry various wild forms or species, some of which were introduced to cultivation more than a century ago. Among the first of these were equestre and Reginae from the West Indies and Central America, from which were derived the rich red and crimson tints of some of the earlier hybrids; vittatum from the same region, whose influence may still be occasionally seen in the longitudinal bands of colour more or less distinctly traced on the segments of several; even of the latest seedlings; reticulatum, a smaller, a smaller-flowered species from Brazil, well marked by the crimson veinings and reticulations of its segments, and by its white striped foliage, characters which it has imparted to some of time beautiful autumn-flowering hybrids of which we have still too few. Many years later came psittacinum, also of Brazilian origin, a species with larger flowers than the preceding, and among whose most obvious features are the green centre and deep crimson veinings confined chiefly to the apical half of the segments; and about the same time aulicum, of robust habit and bright scarlet flowers, was sent from the Organ Mountains by Mr. William Harrison, the discoverer and introducer of many fine Brazilian Orchids. The species I have named were certainly the chief ingredients of the ancestry of the earliest progenies of Hippeastrum, and it is highly probable that others were also used, but their influence has long since disappeared from the existing race, and they may therefore be passed over in silence. One remarkable species must not be overlooked, on account of its long tube-like flowers of greenish white, reminding one of the long tubular Lilies of Japan and the Philippine Islands; this is solandriflorum. Herbert obtained mules from this and regio-vittatum, which greatly resembled the remarkable form figured in the Botanical Magazine for 1887, tab. 3542, under the name of ambiguum, which had been received into the Botanic Garden at Glasgow. It seems that this form and the hybrids resembling it, more than solandriflorum itself, were afterwards used in the production of the few forms with long tubed flowers that were occasionally raised.
With the view of bringing before you as vividly as possible the improvement that has been effected in the Hippeastrum, I have brought together as many of the original species concerned in the ancestry of the race we now cultivate as could be procured and brought into flower. With these are associated two or three others said to be natural species, but of whose identification there is some uncertainty; and also three or four hybrids that have exercised a potential influence in the production of the race of Hippeastrum raised by us at Chelsea, and which form the most prominent links between that race and the original species. Two other elements that have contributed to the perfection of the Hippeastrum have yet to be mentioned; these are pardinum and Leopoldi, but as they appeared at a date so recent, and as the last named has exercised a preponderating influence in the production of most of the latest acquisitions, it will be best to deal with them in their chronological place, and to take a rapid retrospect of what was achieved with the older forms before their appearance.
Dean Herbert was the first who commenced systematically and persistently the hybridisation of the Hippeastrum, and he has left us an account of his early operations in the Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London, and in the appendix to the tenth volume of the Botanical Register, published in 1824; his later operations are recorded in the Journal of the Society for 1847. As early as 1824 be had thirty-five different crosses, and there were four or five more in other collections. A coloured plate of one of his hybrids, which he considered to be the best in colour he had then obtained, and which he called splendidum, is given with the appendix to the Botanical Register for 1824. He had raised it from vittatum crossed with Reginae or equestre, but, owing to a confusion in the labels, he was uncertain which. Judging from the drawing, it would now scarcely attract a passing glance. At that time, however, another hybrid came under the notice of amateurs, on account of its brilliant colour, and which was destined to attain great prominence on account of the influence it exercised in the production of future progenies. This became known in gardens under the name of Johnsoni, but its origin is somewhat obscure. It is mentioned by Herbert in the Transactions of the Horticultural Society of London for 1819, where he says, "I have many seedlings from Johnson's regio-vittatum, and I have some mule equestre-vittatum superior to Johnson's flower." What became of these mules is not stated, but three or four years later, some doubts having arisen respecting the parentage of Johnsoni, an experiment was made in the garden of the Earl of Carnarvon at Highclere by Mr. Gowen, who crossed vittatum with Reginae, the reputed parents of Johnsoni. The seedlings proved to be identical with Johnsoni, and its true parentage was thus established. The account of Mr. Gowen's experiment is given in the Transactions of the Horticultural Society for 1823, in which there is an incidental allusion to the Botanic Garden at Liverpool, and from which it may be assumed that the original Johnsoni was raised there. I am glad to be able to bring before you a bulb of Johnsoni in flower, and I know of no more interesting subject in the whole history of the Hippeastrum than the preservation of this hybrid during so many years.
Passing over several hybrids that subsequently appeared, but which enjoyed but an ephemeral reputation, I come to Acramanii, for many years cultivated in gardens under the erroneous name of Ackermanni. From the Gardeners' Chronicle for 1850, page 357, we learn that the original Acramanii was raised by Messrs. Garaway & Co., of Bristol, in 1885, from aulicum platypetalum (figured in the Botanical Register for 1826, tab. 1088) and psittacinum. This hybrid unquestionably marks a great advance on all its predecessors in those qualities which constitute the ideal of florists, but it appears to have given place a few years afterwards to a still finer form raised by the same firm from aulicum and Johnsoni, and called by them Acramanii pulcherrimum. This, too, I am glad to bring before you to-day, and thus two of the most important links in the chain of affinities connecting the noble race of Hippeastrum of our time with the wild forms, and with the first mules raised by the horticulturists of two generations ago, are here represented.
The appearance of Acramanii pulcherrimum gave a considerable impulse to Hippeastrum culture, for we find it taken up shortly afterwards by the late Louis Van Houtte of Ghent, and by other Belgian and also by French horticulturists, "who raised seedlings in considerable numbers, and by careful hybridising originated many fine varieties." Some of Van Houtte's best acquisitions were figured from time to time in the Flore des Serres, They were brilliant in colour, and surpassed in that respect the general host of varieties cultivated at that time; but they are all characterised by narrow acuminate segments scarcely broad enough to exclude the daylight from behind. Van Houtte's best forms were afterwards surpassed by the acquisitions of the elder De Graaff of Leyden, to whom we are indebted for the form that bears his name, and which was one of the parents of Empress of India, raised by his sons, the present well-known cultivators of the Hippeastrum variety that afterwards became an important factor in the production of some of our best types. Both Graveanum and Empress of India are in the collection exhibited by us to-day. In our own country many meritorious forms have been raised by Mr. B. S. Holford of Westonbirt, Mr. Baker, formerly gardener at Coombe Warren, Messrs. Henderson, the late Rev. Thomas Staniforth, an ardent admirer of the Hippeastrum, and by the late Mr. Speed of Chatsworth.
I have now arrived at another turning-point in the history of the Hippeastrum; this was the discovery of pardinum and Leopoldi by our collector Pearce on the Andes of Peru, and their introduction by us into European gardens. Placing these side by side with the older species, it will be readily seen that as regards the shape of the flowers and the length of their tube, a series may be found of which the half-closed, long-tubed solandriflorum occupies one extreme, and the open, almost tubeless Leopoldi the other. Between these extremes the other species participating in the parentage of our present race of Hippeastrum may be arranged accordingly. Up to the time of the introduction of Leopoldi most of even the best forms obtained by hybridisation were characterised by more or less narrow and acuminate segments, of which the lowermost was almost invariably imperfect, or, at best, unsymmetrical with the others; by a longer or shorter tube, which they had inherited from their wild ancestors; and by the green central rays so conspicuous in equestre, psittacinum, aulicum and others, The introduction of Leopoldi and pardinum therefore afforded an opportunity of exceptional interest for attempting the improvement of the old race of Amaryllis that was not to be neglected, and we accordingly commenced in 1867 a series of experiments with that object. The first experiments with pardinum were made by Seden, who raised Chelsoni and Brilliant. The general results obtained with pardinum were, however, disappointing, and we soon abandoned the use of that species. We also tried aulicum in our earlier operations, but we obtained nothing of value, the ill shape of the flower of that species, and its large green eye, preponderating in the progeny. In Leopoldi we found a more potent subject; in fact it is not saying too much in affirming that throughout the genus no single species has exercised so preponderating an influence in the production of the best forms as this. Our first results with Leopoldi were encouraging, for although we found, as Dean Herbert had found half a century before, that when a particular species is crossed with a mule, or any particular mule with a species, the individuals of the resulting progeny have not only a great resemblance to each other, but also many of them come so near the species as to be practically the same thing, or the same but slightly varied, yet we are able to select several distinct new forms showing a marked improvement on their progenitors in breadth and substance of segment, size and symmetry of flower, &c., while preserving the main features of Leopoldi. The hybrids of this type culminated, as regards form and size of flower, in a variety we called John Heal, as a recognition of the patient and intelligent perseverance of the foreman who now cultivates our collection. The scapes of Leopoldi, it will be remembered, are two-flowered, while those of some of the older species, and especially some of the best hybrids derived from them, are four to six flowered. We attained great perfection in form and size in the variety John Heal. Our next step was to attempt to obtain four to six flowered scapes with flowers equally good in form and size, with diversity in colour; we therefore crossed Be Graaff's Empress of India, a noble four to six flowered variety of brilliant colour (a specimen of which is before you), with the best Leopoldi forms, with the result of obtaining not only four to six flowered scapes, but also decided breaks of colour into various shades and tints, and by the intercrossing of the forms so obtained has resulted the race now so universally admired.
In the course of our experiments it was another desirable point to diminish as far as possible the green central rays that are objectionable from a florist's point of view, and how far we have succeeded the splendid flowers now before you will show. Then, again, the irregularity of the lowermost segment has always been looked upon as a defect, but one which is inherent in the ancestral forms; and although it may never be entirely obliterated, yet much improvement in that direction has teen effected, as may be seen in some of the flowers exhibited today. Another fine race has been obtained by crossing the best Leopoldi forms with reticulatum, which has resulted in the production of a beautiful series of autumn and winter flowering varieties, of which the finest of the first raised progeny is known under the name of Autumn Beauty, while from a subsequent cross we raised Favourite and Edith M. Wynne. Other fine late-flowering varieties of the reticulatum type, in which Leopoldi did not participate in the parentage, are named Mrs. Garfield and Mrs. Lee.
Comparing the latest acquisitions with the original species in respect of size, we find that the flowers of the latter range from 2 1/2 to 5 inches in diameter, with segments from 3/4 to 1 1/4 inch broad, and with tubes 3 to 4 inches long; that of solandriflorum 7 to 8 inches long. Our best recent types have a diameter of 9 to 11 inches, with segments 3 1/2 to 4 inches broad, and the tube almost obsolete. As regards colour, scarlet and red prevail in some of the natural species; crimson-scarlet veins, streaks and reticulations in others, and all with a larger or smaller green centre. Besides these, solandriflorum and calyptratum are greenish white; but the last named has not been used of late for hybridising. We have now an uninterrupted range of colour from deep maroon-crimson through crimson, crimson-scarlet, pure scarlet, orange-scarlet, carmine, rose and rose-pink, to almost pure white, with striped and reticulated forms of all these shades of colour.
To remove any misapprehensions, if such exist, respecting the facility with which the Hippeastrum (i.e., the Amaryllis) may be cultivated, I will now formulate the cultural routine followed by us, and tinder which failures are practically unknown.
Soil.—The compost should consist of two-thirds good fibrous loam, such as is used for vines, and one-third cow manure fresh from the stall. These ingredients should be brought together towards this end of July, and allowed to remain in heap for about three months, when they should be turned over and well mixed together. The mixture must at no time be allowed to get too wet, and when required for potting, in the early part of the following year, a proportion to the whole of nearly one-third of silver sand should be added.
Potting.—The pots selected should be in proportion to the size of the bulbs, and the smaller the pots that can be so used the better; in every case the drainage must be ample. Before potting every vestige of old soil should be shaken off, and any decaying roots, and any other decayed matter that may be found about the bulbs, should be removed. The potting should be performed according to the time the bulbs are required to be in bloom, a period of eight to ten weeks being the usual interval between the potting and the flowering of the bulbs. We usually commence potting about the middle of January, and have bulbs in flower about the middle of March, the flowering season continuing thence for eight to ten weeks. After potting the pots should be plunged in some suitable material; no bottom heat should be applied at first, but the bulbs should be allowed to start into growth as gently as possible,
Temperature.—After potting the temperature of the house should be maintained at 13° C. (55° F.) for three or four weeks, then a little bottom beat should be given, and the temperature of the house raised to 15° C. (60° F.). With this temperature the house should be damped down occasionally, and when the weather is warm and bright a little air should be admitted at the top for a couple of hours in the middle of the day. When in flower a light shading should be used to prolong the flowering season.
Watering.—This requires the most careful attention; it is, in fact, the pivot on which successful Hippeastrum culture turns. More bulbs are injured or die from excess of water than from any other cause, and excess of water is one of the causes of the so-called Eucharis mite, one of the most destructive pests the cultivator of the Hippeastrum has to contend with. At the time of potting the new soil should be a little moist; after potting no water should be given for four or five weeks, or till the foliage and flower-scapes have attained a height of 2 to 8 inches; then it should be sparingly applied until the flower buds appear. but from that time a more liberal supply should be given till the foliage is perfected; it should be then gradually reduced until about the middle of August, when it should be withheld altogether. Eight. or nine weeks later the pots may be lifted out of the plunging material, and after an interval of another month all the plunging material should be removed from the house, and the bulbs kept perfectly dormant on the stage till the potting season comes round again; the house, too, should be kept as dry as possible the whole time the bulbs are at rest. We use no liquid or artificial manure at any time. Much has been written in the horticultural press about the mite that appears both on the Eucharis and on the Hippeastrum, but we have no fear of it. In my opinion its prevention is simply a matter of not over-potting and not over-watering, and we have seldom seen bulbs, however badly affected, that could not be brought into perfect health again.
Treatment after Flowering.—After flowering the pots should be kept plunged, and each pot and about half the exposed part of the bulb should be covered with the plunging material. When the roots begin to push, more bottom heat and more water should be given; the atmosphere of the house should be kept more humid, and the foliage occasionally syringed. In bright, warm weather a slight shading should be used, and the growth of the plants encouraged to proceed as rapidly as possible, for the stronger the bulbs the finer will be the flower scapes and their Mowers in the following spring. Towards the end of July the bulbs should be gradually ripened by diminishing the shading, and three or four weeks later the shading may be discontinued altogether, and as much light and air admitted into the house as possible.
Insects.—There will be no difficulty with these pests if their first appearance is watched for, and their increase checked as soon as they are discovered. Thrip will spot the foliage, but fumigating occasionally will keep them under. During the summer months red-spider will also attack the foliage, but their increase can be prevented by syringing, and by keeping a moist atmosphere in the house. Sometimes mealy-bug appears, especially if the bulbs are placed near plants subject to the attacks of that plague, but it can be easily kept in check by cleaning or syringing with blight composition once or twice a week, and in winter, when the foliage has fallen, it can be seen and removed without much trouble.
Some cultivators of the Hippeastrum, as Mr. R. S. Holford, of Westonbirt, who possesses the finest amateur collection in this country, do not repot their bulbs annually, nor do they plunge them as we recommend, but give them liquid manure during the growing season. The bulbs are also grown in different houses, amongst other plants, and in vineries, and most successfully too, with the advantage of prolonging the season to such an extent that a Hippeastrum in flower can usually be seen at any time of the year. The value of the Hippeastrum as a decorative plant can thence be scarcely underrated, for even when the scape is cut and placed in water the flowers continue fresh nearly as long as if left on the bulb. Some of the Dutch growers treat the Hippeastrum much in the manner that we do, notably Mr. de Graaff, of Leyden, whose collection is a magnificent one, and to whom we are indebted for very valuable information when we commenced the cultivation of this beautiful plant, and with whom we are now in friendly rivalry in the raising of improved forms.