The Garden p. 313-314 (April 7, 1883)


At the last meeting of the Royal Horticultural Society, held on Tuesday, March 27, Mr. Shirley Hibberd gave a lecture on the Amaryllis. The occasion was made the more interesting by the exhibition of collections of these beautiful flowers, in some cases not for competition, in others for the prizes offered by an amateur desirous of encouraging the production of hybrid Amaryllises of high floral quality.

Mr. Hibberd said the name of the flower suggested that its history should begin somewhere in the 106th Olympiad, or, say some 300 years before the Christian era, in order to bring the country girl, Amaryllis herself, to furnish the subject of the opening chapter. But, there is nothing to be gained for our present purpose from the pleasant, verses of Theocritus or the later lines of Virgil, for neither of these poets give aught beyond the name, and as a matter of fact Amaryllis does not anywhere in classic poetry rise to the dignity of a heroine. But it is one of the glories of the Linnean nomenclature that by means of symbols selected from imperishable Nature we are brought into contact with the sweet stories of old, the flower of to-day taking us to the very fountain-head of pastoral poetry—the idylls of the poet of Syracuse. The Amaryllis in some form was known long before the time of Linnaeus. for John Gerard had the one now known as Sternbergia lutea, which he figures at page 113 as Narcissus autumnalis major. John Parkinson had this same plant, and figured it at p. 75 of the "Paradisus," and he had another which he figured at p. 71 as Narcissus indicus, the Indian Daffodil, with a red flower. This became known as the Jacobaea Lily, and was figured in the Botanical Magazine (t. 47) as Amaryllis formosissima. This Jacobaea Lily is now catalogued as Sprekelia formosissima, having been so named by the German botanist Heister, in honour of Dr. Sprekel, and not, as is generally supposed, by Dean Herbert, who, however, adopted it and thereby sanctioned it. The plant has been of late years met with in Guatemala, but its native habitat was long unknown. It appears to have been introduced to Spain before the year 1593, in which year, according to Linnaeus, it began to be known generally in Europe.

Linnaeus classed as Amaryllis a number of plants that have since been separated under other generic designations. But he made considerable progress, nevertheless, towards a clear definition, preparing the way thereby for the labours of Dean Herbert half a century subsequently. This good churchman devoted to these plants an immensity of labour in determining distinctive characters, raising hybrids, and reducing to order all the Amaryllids known in his time. The first publication of his views occurred in the Botanical Magazine in the year 1820, under the description of Amaryllis reticulata (t. 2, 113). These views were illustrated in a remarkable manner in a paper on "The Production of Hybrid Vegetables," published in "The Transactions of the Horticultural Society" in the year 1882. In a treatise on the order published subsequently, he developed a complete system of classification, one result of which was to give to Amaryllis Belladonna, otherwise known as the Belladonna Lily of the Cape of Good Hope, the sole honour of representing the classic beauty Amaryllis. The South American plants that are nearest allied to the Belladonna were classed under Hippeastrum, this generic designation being in reality adopted from Linnaeus, who had at least supplied the idea. It is necessary here to be explicit. In the "Paradisus Batavus" of Paul Hermann, published 1698, is a description of a plant called Lilium americanum puniceo, the red American Lily. This plant Linnaeus named Amaryllis equestris, and it is so entered in the "Hortus Kewensis," and under the same name is figured in the Botanical Magazine of the year 1795 (t. 305) and the Botanical Register, 1817 (t. 234). The flower of this species is somewhat irregular in form, and the spatha of two leaves stand up like a pair of ears, and thus, according to story number one, the specific name equestris refers to a fancied resemblance of the flowers to the head of a horse. But story number two alters the case. In a description of the lovely Amaryllis reticulata, by Dr. Sims, in the Botanical Magazine of the year 1803 (t. 657), the learned editor says, "We take this opportunity of correcting a mistake of the late Mr. Curtis, in saying that Linnaeus gave the name equestris to the Amaryllis referred to as such. The fact is, this name was given from the remarkable likeness the front view of it has to a star of some of the orders of knighthood." Thus the Hon. and Rev. William Herbert followed out the suggestion of Linnaeus when he made a bold separation between the Amaryllises of Africa and those of America, re-naming the western group Hippeastrum (the Equestrian Star), the justification for which will be found at p. 144 et seq. of his treatise on the Amaryllidaceae. The distinction is not geographical merely, but is founded on minute details of structure and the order of the leafing. It is proper here to say that to Dean Herbert we are not solely indebted for scientific knowledge of the Amaryllis. Of the labours of the professional botanists it is not needful to speak in a special manner, because we must refer to them again and again in the treatment of a subject of this kind. But at this point I feel bound to mention that concurrently with the study of these plants by Dean Herbert they were collected and cultivated with spirit and discretion by Mr. Griffin, of South Lambeth, to whom the Botanical Register was often indebted for figures of the more characteristic species. Mr. Ker named the pseudo-genus Griffinia in honour of this gentleman. In a few of the references cited it will have been noticed that the Amaryllis has been at one time designated a Narcissus and at another time a Lily, and again the compound term LilioNarcissus has been used. The distinction between a true Amaryllis and a true Lily rests on the position of the ovary. For the casual observer—or, say, for a visitor to the flower show—there are some obvious distinctions that will be found of service. The Lilies have leafy flower-stems without spathes; the Amaryllises have naked flower-stems, and the flowers spring from a spathe such as Parkinson would describe as a "skinny husk." But these distinctions have no scientific value as the orders are at present defined. To give an account of

The several species would needlessly prolong this discourse. But a certain number must be referred to because of their importance as cultivated plants. One of the earliest and most distinct is Amaryllis Reginae, which was flowered by Fairchild, of Hoxton, in the year 1728. A folio pamphlet containing a history of the plant was written by James Douglas, who named it Lilium Reginae. Its first appearance in the Botanical Magazine occurred in the year 1799. The flower has a short funnel and a capacious limb, the colour is crimson, and the star is fully displayed. A. vittata was first figured in the Botanical Magazine in 1788 (t. 128). The flower is always smallish, with a decided funnel, and the petals are elegantly striped, and the progeny, even at two or three removes, partakes of this character. A. reticulata was introduced in 1777 by Dr. E. W. Gray, and was figured in the Botanical Magazine in the year 1803 (t. 657). It is of the most elegant form, approximating to that of a Convolvulus; the tube of moderate length, the limb delicately reticulated in shades of a rich lively rose. A. equestris dates from 1710. It is a fine flower of medium size, with short funnel, the limb crimson or scarlet, displaying a bold green star. A variety of this, named major, grown by Mr. Griffin, and figured in the Botanical Register of 1817 (t. 234), very strikingly resembles some modern hybrids of A. pardina, and in place of a green star it has a bold white centre, the outer portions of the limb being of a fiery vermilion colour. The more celebrated A. aulica was first figured in the Botanical Register in 1820 (t. 444). It was imported from Brazil by Mr. Griffin, and flowered with him at South Lambeth for the first time in December, 1819. In this the elements of a crown are perceptible, and the leafage is peculiar. The form of the flower is far away from what would be termed the florist type, the petals being narrow and separated. But in a variety named platypetala, obtained from the Organ Mountains by Mr. Harrison, of Aigburth, near Liverpool, about the year 1825, the most splendid floral characters are developed. The colour of this variety is rich deep crimson with a bold green star that is sometimes prolonged to the extremities of the divisions, which are short, smooth, and so broad as to overlap and form a noble flower. All the foregoing, and many more, that I cannot stay to mention, have been registered as Amaryllis. But in the year 1822 the characters of Hippeastrum were set forth by Dean Herbert, and the new designation was adopted in the Botanical Magazine in the year 1825, when there appeared a figure of Hippeastrum solandriflorum (t. 2573). Some others appeared under the new generic name, as, for example, H. ambiguum and H. brevifiorum in 1837. Now, in

The history of the flower, it is proper to record another episode. In the Botanical Magazine it was an Amaryllis for a period of about thirty-five years. Then it became a Hippeastrum for a period of forty-five years. But in describing a splendid species, discovered in Peru by Messrs. Veitch & Son's collector, Mr. Pearce, in June, 1867, Sir J. D. Hooker named in Amaryllis pardina. Having done so, he felt bound to justify the proceeding, and he did so by saying that the differences recognised by Herbert were so slight and variable as to be of no practical value. Therefore the original generic designation was restored; Linnaeus triumphed, and Amaryllis is herself again. The introduction of A. pardina opens a new chapter in the history of this flower. Its name implies that it is spotted like the leopard, but that quality is not much valued by the florists. It is of more importance to say that this flower is distinguished by great breadth of petal and the absence of a funnel, a fact favourable to the expansion of the flowers to a symmetrical face. More than any of its race introduced up to the year 1867, A. pardina stirred the blood of florists and gave new zest to the labours of the hybridists, who, however, soon discovered that, with all its fine qualities, it is not the model for breeding from that they would themselves have created had they been permitted to assist in the work of the third day as recorded in the Book of Genesis. But the model was ready for all that; like many other desirable things, it was made with the rest on the third day and remained to be discovered. This was secured in Peru by Mr. Pearce. It appears that the King of the Belgians, one of the most generous and enlightened patrons of horticulture in this flowery world, admired the flower when it was shown at South Kensington in the year 1869, and it was named in honour of his visit Amaryllis Leopoldi. It is as truly the king of the Amaryllises as Lilium auratum is the queen of the Lilies. It possesses all the elements of a perfect florist's flower in breadth of petal, depth of colour, a sharply-defined star, and petals superbly tipped with white or an approximation thereto. It is sufficiently defective as a florist's flower to afford work for the hybridist, and excitement to the critics, and to give peculiar interest to the splendid series of varieties that, chiefly by its aid, have been raised by Messrs. Veitch & Sons, of Chelsea. The hybrids figured in the year 1865 in Van Houtte's "Flore des Serres" were, in a way, wonders of their time, but we have got far beyond the flowers with funnels and indefinite green stains, and look for expanded flowers of the most perfect symmetry both of form and colour, and with novel markings to give the charm of variety to collections. At this point it seems proper to remark that

In cross-breeding plants varieties occasionally occur that have the individuality, the vigour, and the power of determining the characters of future generations that we associate with species. For all that we know to the contrary they are species, and although brought about by human agency, have, nevertheless, been brought about in Nature's way, and with none but Nature's materials. Some such we have in an Amaryllis called Acramanni pulcherrima, raised by Messrs. Garaway, of Bristol, in 1850, from A. aulica platypetala and A. Johnsoni. This Acramanni pulcherrima is a narrowish flower of fine quality, the colour rich deep crimson with a subdued green star. It has the potentiality of a species for the purposes of the raiser, and has influenced the hybrids immensely. One of the finest varieties in which we see the influence of this plant is that named Dr. Masters, in which there is scarcely a trace of green, while the form and colouring are delightful. When we get amongst the varieties, however, it begins to be time to cease talking; therefore, it seems proper to devote the last chapter of this discourse to the general subject of the varieties. And the great question in connection with that general subject is, by what rules are we to judge the hybrids for a code of properties is very much needed. From the point of view of the critical florist, the funnel is objectionable, but happily that is pretty well got rid of. The shorter the flower the more complete, generally speaking, is its expansion, and above all things expansion is requisite to the display of the colour. Now let us, as severe critics, find as many faults as possible with the hybrid Amaryllis. The funnel is objectionable, even in its present severe limitation. The petals are unequal, and the front petal especially needs to be remodelled. For our present purpose we may regard all the divisions of the perianth as petals, although we might with propriety call the three outer divisions sepals, and the three inner divisions petals. The length of the lowest of the three is noticeable as a fault in all the varieties. Another fault is the green colour that so frequently occurs, but occasionally this assumes a beautiful form, and therefore I think it would be a mistake to condemn the green colour in toto. It will in due time change to white, and a soft creamy white would probably tell with great power if symmetrically associated with high crimson colour. In a good form of A. Leopoldi we see a well-defined star, and the petals are tipped with white. A self-coloured flower should be pure throughout, but we may recognise a star of good form and marginal colour corresponding, and thus we may have self-coloured flowers, starred or striped flowers, and tipped flowers. As a matter of fact, we have all these already, but the persistency of the green colour is a common blemish. A great point in

The new race is the growth of leaves and flowers concurrently. This is an immense gain, and we must make it a point of importance in estimating the merits of a variety. It is likely, too, that as the plant learns to produce leaves and flowers simultaneously, it will also learn that the green star in the flower is no longer needed, and thus improvement of the leafage will operate to the advantage of the flower, and we shall obtain the white, and perhaps the yellow star, that seems to be so much needed for the attainment of perfection. It may be properly urged that there are many beautiful species and varieties that are far removed from the properties thus suggested as desirable. It is no part of my business to condemn any of them; rather, I would say, let us rejoice at the infinite variety of Nature, and feast upon beauty that is as yet "unadorned," and therefore is "adorned the most." We have but to do with these as with other flowers. All the Roses and Pelargoniums and Azaleas that are at once beautiful and useful, and yet wanting in the properties that constitute floral perfection, are classed as "decorative," and are judged as such. These we hand over to the gardeners and the world at large. But all the ugly and useless flowers that Nature appears to have produced for her own private enjoyment we hand over to the botanists, and those learned people appear to appreciate our generosity. We say of such things, "take them upstairs," and they forthwith go to delight the philosophers who dwell in our upper room. There are many beautiful species and varieties of Amaryllis that must for ever stand apart from the group that we judge as florists' flowers, and these cannot be disparaged by the operation within a certain circle of laws that have the sanction of experience, because consistent with the aims of Nature and the demands of common sense. The florists are sometimes regarded as a narrow-minded lot. But it will be found that their minds are broad enough to enable them to select for their own enjoyment the most beautiful flowers, and, if other people prefer the kinds that they reject, they are generous enough to leave them to the free exercise of their choice.