Friday, May 31, 2013

Levan Homestead - 2009
Like all families, my family contains a fair few mysteries. Fortunately, not all aspects of the history of my family are concealed. The history of the Levan family is actually very well documented! My Great Great Grandmother, Rosetta Levan was the last in my mother's line to hold that name. Rosetta became a Derr when she married Daniel in the 1880's. She gave birth to Clinton who went on to marry Fannie Linn. Then, Clinton and Fannie went on to give birth to Florence Viola Derr who married Charles William Mausteller! Oh, Lois was the result of the pairing of Florence and Charles. Lois is my mother!  
In the 1927, the Reverend Warren Patton Coon compiled a book entitled The Genealogical Record of The Levan Family. It is an amazing book that basically does the whole  'who begat who' thing from 1685 through until 1927! There are lots of good stories included and of course an extensive history of the Huguenots. You see, the Levans or Le Van family were German speaking French folk, who became refugees when they were kicked out of France by the Catholics after the revocation of Edict of Nantes in 1685. They moved/escaped temporarily to Amsterdam, as you do, and then the adult children all hopped on a boat and went to the USA in 1715. By choice, they went to Pennsylvania because they had become aware that they could practice their religion there without persecution.
The Levans were not the only family of Huguenots to head off to Pennsylvania at the same time. The ship was full of them! It is generally assumed that there were about 16 families that sailed together and settled in the Oley Valley. The Oley Valley is a fertile broad expanse of relatively flat land just east of Reading, Pennsylvania. This area is 'famous' for the 'Pennsylvania Dutch', the Amish and the Mennonites. You know these religious groups, they shun modernity, have fairly strict practices and dress in the clothes styles that were popular in 1715. Maybe we won't talk about religion here. Let's just say that there was a fair amount of religiosity and barn-building happening in Pennsylvania in 1715.  
As the Oley Valley filled up with farms, and churches, the families slowly started to move to the 'hills' north of Reading. Part of the Levan family headed out over the mountains and found an almost replica 'Oley Valley' in a broad valley about 60 miles northwest of Reading in a place that got named Numidia. They just couldn't get away from the religious references! The Numidia branch of the Levan family did very well for themselves as farmers and of course founders of many of the churches in the area. The deep fertile soils and short but very productive growing season, allowed bountiful harvests of a wide range of crops. Winter was a bit of a problem as snow and ice lasted a good 5 months in most years. Barn building was developed to a very fine art during the 1700 and 1800's. The landscape throughout central Pennsylvania is characterised by a range of styles of barns. What prompted this little story is the barn shown in the picture above! Yes, it could be any barn in Pennsylvania but it is not, it is a special barn. This was the barn built for the original Levan Homestead in Numidia. Look at the size of it! A four-storey barn with nearly the whole of the top half being the hayloft! Another remarkable point about this barn is that it is still owned by a Levan! As you come down off Mystic Mountain onto the gentle rolling hills of Numidia this is the first homestead to greet you. On the left of the road opposite the driveway, is the Levan farm stall. Here from late spring through fall you can purchase top quality produce grown in the fields you stand in and survey with your eyes.
In 2009, on one of my regular trips to my ancestral home in Rupert, my cousin, partner and I stopped to see the 'cousins'. We had a great chat, the traditional glass of ice tea and purchased a basket full of goodies. This trip could not have been timed better! The very next night was the Levan Family reunion. I could meet all the relatives! The story of that adventure will have to wait until another time. We were headed to the Mausteller reunion that day! We spent some time wandering around and getting a few pictures. Pictures, I might add, that have been printed and framed and now grace several 'Levan' family households! One of these photos is also the header of this blog.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dr. John Lindley

A life dedicated to plants


A picture may paint a thousand words but sometimes those words may be misleading or just plain wrong. Every available picture of John Lindley, probably the most influential botanist the world has ever seen, shows a slight, bespectacled man with a dour, introspective expression and decidedly unkempt look. It is hard to imagine the depth and breadth of the knowledge held in such an unlikely vessel. It is also hard to understand how this man of letters could come from such an impoverished and unlikely beginning.  

John Lindley's life is a story of a highly individualistic man, a restless man, an ambitious man. Endowed with an unbridled intellect, he was aggressive and outspoken with a capacity to focus intently on the matter at hand and simultaneously retain a wide variety of interests. He dedicated his time and prodigious energy to what was the love of his life, The Plant Kingdom and more specifically to the plant family we now call the Orchidaceae.


Growing up Lindley

John Lindley was born in the small village of Catton, just north of the town of Norwich, England on the 5th of February 1799. Johns parents, George and Mary Lindley, had a total of four children, although it is not clear where John occurred in the birth order. George Lindley ran a nursery and orchard and was variously referred to as a horticulturalist, pomologist or seedsman. By all accounts, George was a very skilled nurseryman but a less than successful businessman. He is recorded as living in 'indebtedness' until he became foreman to Messrs. Miller and Sweet of Bristol Nursery. Unlike his contemporaries, George could not afford to send his son John to University or to a commission in the army.

Very little information exists concerning the childhood of John Lindley, which in many respects is not surprising for a nurseryman's son. What we do know is that John attended Norwich Grammar School, helped his father in his endeavours and collected wildflowers in the surrounding countryside. All very unremarkable for a young lad from a family of 'modest' means. Indeed, in a description from The London Cottage Gardener, John Lindley's childhood is described as. 'not distinguished by any remarkable occurrence'.  After grammar school, John was sent to France to obtain further education but what exactly he 'obtained' whilst in France is not recorded. He never obtained an undergraduate degree. Upon his return to England and with his father's 'reversal of fortunes', John was given over to his own resources. Apparently, John's resources were considerable and consisted of 'a well-stored mind, great self-reliance and a ready perception of the art of rising'. In other words, young John Lindley was a smart, independent, ambitious upstart.


The start of a spectacular career.

Lindley started his adult professional life at the tender age of 16 when he became an agent for a British seed merchant and was based in Belgium. It would appear that his career as a seedsman did not last long. Soon after his return from the continent he befriended William John Hooker who allowed him to use his library. It was through Lindley's relationship with Hooker the he caught the notice of Sir Joseph Banks. Again, it was John's 'considerable resources' that alerted Sir Joseph to John's worth. Sir Joseph witnessed a 'controversy' between the young John Lindley and the president of the Linnean Society. So enamoured was Sir Joseph with the opinions and ability of this 'young controversialist'  that he took him under his patronage. Sir Joseph employed John Lindley as an assistant in his herbarium/library, where John started on his first publication, a translation of Analyse du fruit by L. C. M. Richard, published in 1819 (when he was 20 years old). In 1820, the first original work by Lindley was published, Monographia Rosarium, which contained descriptions and drawings of Roses by Lindley himself. This was followed in 1821 by  Monographia Digitalium, and Observations on Pomaceae. By 22 years of age young John Lindley was well on his way to being a botanist of note.


Whilst he may have started out as a herbarium/library assistant and understudy to Sir Joseph Banks, it was Banks' connections with the Horticultural Society that would forever change the trajectory of this young would-be botanist. In 1822 it was formally announced that a Mr. John Lindley would take on the role of an officer of the society, Assistant Secretary of the Garden. As holder of that office he would maintain the plant collections, keep all accounts and minutes of reports addressed to the Society's Council and other business in relation to the Horticultural Societies garden as Chiswick.


Making his mark

Lindley's rise and rise was undoubtedly aided by this connection with the Horticultural society and the skills he obtained under the patronage of Sir Joseph Banks. By 1826 Lindley had assumed the role of editor of The Botanical Register. It is his accomplishments as editor of The Botanical Register, his previous publication record and his involvement with the Horticultural Society that he was, in 1929 and at just 30 years of age, appointed Chair of Botany at the University of London. Professor John Lindley gave his 'Introductory Lecture' in April 1829. In keeping with his controversialist nature Lindley challenged the Linnaean orthodoxy of the time, labelling it 'Artificial Botany', one based on sexual morphology alone. Lindley made an impassioned stand for the Natural System of Botany which considered a full range of plant characteristics.  Lindley vowed to make the Natural System of Botany the basis for his course of instruction. To emphasise his point, Lindley published the Introduction to the Natural System of Botany.  By all accounts his lecturing style and the quality of his teachings were 'superior'. A review by a contemporary described his 'style' as 'Free and conversational in his manner, his matter was excellent, and methodically arranged. I entered his class with little knowledge of, and less liking for, Botany, and left it with the results that I have mentioned, having amongst my competitors Dr. _______". Lindley attracted large crowds, who would come from far and wide to hear his wise words and hear of the new plants that he was describing at an ever increasing rate. Indeed, Lindley himself encouraged public discourse of all things botanical and initiated 'flower shows' as a means of furthering knowledge of plants.


Never one to stand on his laurels, Professor Lindley obtained a Doctor of Philosophy from a German University in 1832, despite not having an undergraduate degree, after which he used the title Dr. Lindley. His title at the Horticultural Society was raised to Vice Secretary in 1838, a post he held for all but the last three years of his life. It would appear that he took his writing very seriously after 1833 and became somewhat of an activist for horticultural causes. Always in need of an outlet for his incredible knowledge, He was appointed as Lecturer in Botany to the Apothecaries' Company. His now famous Nixus Plantarium was published in 1933 followed in 1938 by the equally ground-breaking Flora Mediea and Sertum Orchidaceum. Of particular note in 1838 is his report on the shortcomings of the then fledgling Kew Gardens. Kew Gardens was in such a state, that it was slated for closure. It was due to one scathing but surprisingly supportive deposition by Dr. Lindley that a total reorganisation of the gardens was initiated and the gardens set on the trajectory towards its present day incarnation.


Without hardly missing a breath, Dr. Lindley produced the textbooks, Ladies' Botany and School Botany in 1839 quickly followed by the monumental Theory of Horticulture in 1840. In 1841, Elements of Botany hit the bookshelves. Not content with just books, Dr. Lindley, in conjunction with a Mr. Paxton and Mr. Dilcke founded the Gardener's Chronicle which was edited by Dr. Lindley until his death. The year 1841 was obviously reaching a crescendo when Dr. Lindley became Professor of Botany at the Royal Institution and published The Fossil Flora of Great Britain with a Mr. Hutton. The world had to wait until 1846 for Dr. Lindley's largest and arguably his most valuable work, entitled The Vegetable Kingdom. This latest book was barely off the presses when he was appointed as editor of the Journal of the Horticultural Society. By 1853 he was corresponding member of the Institut de France. This prodigious output is remarkable even in our day of word processors and computers!

Lindley and his orchids

Just as Lindley was hitting his straps as a botanist, the great plant expeditions to the far flung regions of the world were becoming big business. Paid explorers were bringing back an ever increasing number and diversity of new and unusual plants. The apparently never-ending influx of unnamed species would prove to be a boon to the young Lindley. Amongst all the groups of plant that found their way to the rooms of Lindley, the most interesting were the Orchids. The Orchidacea were especially prized by the aristocracy due to their curious beauty, strange growth habits and singular mystique. The men of wealth and influence in Europe made vast collections of the orchids and needed botanists to assist in the naming of these exotic beauties. Lindley more than adequately fulfilled the role of botanist. His position in society, as botanist for one of the most influential and wealthy patrons of the era and then as assistant secretary of the Horticultural Society and Professor/Chair of Botany at the University of London, earned him the respect of, and allowed him contact with, the greatest of the European collectors.


The orchid family would become the lifelong passion of Lindley and indeed, he became the leading authority on all things orchidaceous. By the time of his death he had named over 120 genera of Orchids, including many of the most popular genera to this day: Ansellia. Bifrenaria, Cattleya, Cirrhopetalum, Coelogyne, Laelia, Lycaste and Sophronitis. It boggles the mind, that just in the Orchidaceae, Lindley put his pen to a staggering 6,479 names. Whist not all of these names have stood the test of time, many have. Sophronitis Lindl. may have been subsumed into other genera but other names he proposed, such as Cymbidium haemetodes, have recently been resurrected. Interestingly, from a Cymbidium lovers point of view, Lindley was responsible for the naming of 12 Cymbidium species including the Australian C. madidum.


The majority of Lindley's orchid work was produced in three books: Genera and Species of Orchidaceous Plants (1830-1840), Sertum orchidaceum (1838), and Folia orchidacea (1852-1855), supplemented by innumerable articles in periodicals and journals.


A legacy of names

Lindley left a personal legacy through his naming of many thousands of plants in hundreds of genera. It is testimony to the man, that so many genera and species have been named in his honour. Lindleya, a monotypic genus in the Rose family from Mexico, was named to honour Lindley by Kunth, shortly after Lindley wrote and illustrated his Monographia Rosarium in 1920. In 2004, Carlyle Luer took a small section of the genus Pleurothallis and renamed it Lindleyalis. This new genus of just 7 species, is best viewed how Lindley himself viewed most plant species, through a microscope or hand lens. Some authorities do not recognise Lindleyalis at the genus level but keep the group at the subgenus level. Unfortunately, the orchid name Lindleyella proposed by Schlecter is considered illegitimate and has been replace with the name Rudolfiella. There is one obsolete, artificial, intergeneric genus called Lindleyara (Euanthe x Renanthera x Vanda x Vandopsis). There remains a large number of plant species that still contain the name Lindley! There are in fact 189 plant species that are named after John Lindley.

Figure 1. Lindleya mespiloides (habitat)
Figure 2 Lindleya mespiloides - Closeup of flowers.
* Photos by Carlos Velazco, Taken near Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. This plant of the Rose family, named after John Lindley, grows throughout the rocky hills of the Chihuahua Desert.


It is not only plant names where Lindley is remembered. Most famous of all are probably the Lindley Libraries of the Royal Horticultural Society in England. There are 4 of them in total. These house some of the works of Lindley. The full collections of Lindley's herbarium and library were split between various institutions including the RHS, Cambridge University and Kew Gardens. Kew bought the orchid herbarium collection whilst Cambridge bought the remainder of the speciments, 58,000 in all. Interestingly, Lindley's private collection was originally offered to Baron Ferdinand von Mueller at the Melbourne Botanic Gardens but that arrangement was never followed through.


Lindley Hall, the main display hall of the Royal Horticultural Society, was named in recognition of the contribution Lindley made to popularising horticulture and encouraging public displays of plants for educational purposes. Indeed, The Royal Horticultural Society Great Spring Show (Chelsea Flower Show) can trace its history back to the original spring shows initiated by John Lindley when he was Assistant Secretary of the Horticultural Society Garden at Chiswick. The Royal Horticultural Society, to this day, awards the Lindley Medal to exhibits of 'special scientific or educational merit'.


A living legacy

Although rarely mentioned in his biographies or other writings, John Lindley did actually have a home life after leaving his childhood home. In 1923, shortly after the publication of his first few books, Lindley married the daughter of Anthony Freestone of Southelmham, Suffolk and with her had three children. Although his daughters are never acknowledged in a meaningful way, it is widely recognised that they contributed significantly to his illustrations, especially in the later parts of his life. His son Nathaniel, later to become Sir Nathaniel and Lord Lindley, was a very well known judge. John Lindley either through necessity or genuine love of his father, took on his father's debts and no doubt increased the degree of stress in his own life.
There is a curious ntry in the journal The London Cottage Gardener from the 1850's that may fill out a bit of the history of this man with the meteoric career. It states that: 'Very recently we recorded a living example of a country gardener's son deservedly elevated for his deeds of noble daring and honourable conduct, to be the associate and the admired of our country's nobility. It is noble and animating to see such examples of the gifted son of the poor man elevated upon the pinnacle to which he has buffeted his way - "rough'd to his point against the adven stream;" and we have this day to place before our readers another such example in Dr. John Lindley.'. These comments are indeed high praise and what one would imagine is the very rare if not unprecedented acceptance and elevation of the son of a poor man, a 'gardener's son', into the nobility. It is difficult to imagine how outstanding John Lindley must have been that his contemporaries were bestowing such honours on him, and at a relatively young age. Honours such as this, when they do happen, are usually reserved for someone once they have retired from their career.

Lindley's work with plants tends to overshadow every other aspect of his life. We don't really get much of an idea of what he was actually like. We can assess from his work that he was probably a genius, restless, meticulous and very focused. There are undoubtedly various contemporary 'conditions' that could be ascribed to this type of behaviour but in his time he was seen as a diligent and hard-working man with a wide range of interest. What is fascinating is that here is a man that spent the vast majority of his life staring down a microscope or using a hand lens to identify and name plants yet he only had vision in one eye! He was blinded in infancy but managed in some way not to let this fact stop him becoming someone who made a profession out of using his sight. We also know that despite a long career of desk-based, sedentary work, he was noted for his upright bearing and good posture.


Lest a picture of a wholly virtuous man be painted by the above writing, Lindley did have his detractors. In the suitably understated language of the time he was considered 'hot-tempered and brusque in manner' but that same description goes on to say, 'he was very kind to young men, and incapable of a mean action.'. Maybe he just didn't tolerate fools and supported young men as he had been supported in his youth? The above description belies the photographic and artistic portraits of the man that show a kindly, studious man with a someone dreamy/detached/sad look. From the two dimensional portraits, one can actually imagine him sitting alone, late at night, intently studying the anatomical features of some exotic orchid. Maybe portraits do not tell the whole story.


As with all life, John Lindley's life came to an end. From 1863 until his death, he suffered from what was termed 'gradual softening of the brain'. On November 1st 1865, John Lindley, arguably the greatest botanist of all time, suffered a stroke. He passed in his own bed, in the house he had occupied for much of his adult life at Turnham/Acton Green. He is buried in the nearby Acton Cemetery.


A life lived

The story of John Lindley is at once awe inspiring and on a personal level motivational. The sheer volume and scope of the work carried out during his lifetime is hard to comprehend. His observational skills were and remain legendary, this despite the fact that he was blind in one eye. Lindley was the first Chair of Botany at The University of London and wrote the first botany textbooks. He classified many thousands of plants and helped to redefine the present method of plant classification. He popularised 'plant journals' by publishing lavishly illustrated descriptive texts. He popularised horticulture by getting out and speaking to the masses about the wonders of the plant kingdom. He encouraged the exhibition of plants and indeed initiated a flower show that has morphed into the most famous flower show of all time, the Chelsea Flower Show. He took a small 'society' garden in the countryside and turned it into a major society that we now call the Royal Horticultural Society. Surely, this man deserves to be much better know, not only amongst present day plant enthusiasts but the general public as well. How we live our lives in relation to plants, the beauty in our lives as expressed in our gardens and our very concept of the relationships of plants with each other can all trace back to how this man 'saw' the world with his one good eye and interpreted with his brilliant mind.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Salient lessons from history with regard to plant societies

Stewartia koreana
(A tree I planted at my mothers house in 1976 and saw in flower for the first time in 2012)

Shortly before Christmas of 2009 I had the opportunity to spend several weeks with my mother, a special and unusual occurence considering my home is in south-eastern Australia and her home is just outside of Philadelphia in the north-east of the USA. I owe a great deal to my mother, not least of which is my love of plants. From a very early age she taught me an appreciation of the sensual delights of plants; their colour, their form, their feel, their fragrance and in some cases their taste. In essence, she taught me about their beauty and how an appreciation of this beauty can positively affect ones mood and approach to life.

Monotropa uniflora
(At Aunt Doris's house near Millville, Pennsylvania)

During my stay a Mom's house we went and visited my Aunt Doris. Doris is remarkably like my mother, they could even pass as twins. Doris is a bit more daring and outgoing than Lois with a naughty streak that has long been replaced by heavy responsibility in my mother. Both share the same strong love of plants. Sitting around after dinner one night, Doris was retelling, for the umpteenth time, the story of how they knew I was going to be a botanist one day. When my mother was going to give birth to my younger sister I was farmed out to Aunt Doris and Uncle Bert for a couple of weeks. The previous autumn, Aunt Doris had purchased a large number of Daffodil bulbs and planted them along the drive to the house. On the third week of April 1961, I arrive at Doris's country house with the boundless energy and inquisitiveness of a two-year-old. On the 28th my mother gave birth to my younger sister. After the news was passed on to me, my Aunt headed off to make dinner, leaving me to play in the yard. To be fair to Doris, it was not a case of child neglect, it was the early 60's and the nearest neighbour was 1/2 mile away. Besides she could see me from the kitchen window. Really, she could. Aunt Doris must have missed seeing me picking all of the daffodils along the driveway. When she called me for dinner I came proudly into the kitchen with a huge bunch of daffodils and announced with great fanfare "Look what I got for Mom". As Doris relates it now, she remembers how she could have killed me, and how devestated she was that all her flowers had been picked. I have been desperately trying to make it up to her for years, taking her flowers and plants for her garden every time I visit. She laughs about the story now but I think I can detect a slight tinge in her voice when she tells it. Does she really need to repeat the story so often? The latest peace-offering to make it into Doris's garden was a particularly fine form of Oak-leaved Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) and a very large Redbud (Cercis canadensis). Doris lives in an isolated property in the middle of the gamelands north of Millville, Pennsylvania.

Rupert Bridge
(Over the Little Fishing Creek at Rupert, Pennsylvania)

Not far from Millville and a little to the south, are the towns of Catawissa and Rupert. Mom and Doris and their sister and brothers were born in Rupert in the little house next the railway tracks. Just south of the railway tracks is where the family eventually lived with Grammy and Grandpop Mausteller in a house built by Great Grandpop Bradley Mausteller. This later house was next to Little Fishing Creek and the Rupert Covered Bridge. Rupert and the surrounding areas are very interesting to me and the family. Most of my mother's side of the family still lives in Rupert and the surrounds. Everywhere you go there is a Mausteller!!! Randy runs the local mechanic and town fair. Buddy works with Randy and does work at the University, Debbie is the local beautician, Uncle John is a general ranconteur, the list goes on. Ronnie is a local identity and present caretaker of Mausteller Mountain, the mountain owned by members of the family. It is covered by forest and overlooks the Susquehana River just outside of Catawissa. It is this mountain and the gamelands around Aunt Doris's house that provided me with my initial experiences of nature. My Grandparents were strongly Germanic and not taken to including children in conversations. My way of dealing with this when I was a tike was to go for walks on Mausteller Mountain! Sometimes, Grandpop would come along to teach me how to walk quietly in the forest, how to avoid certain snakes (they smell like cucumbers) and how to find Ginseng. I really liked Grandpop and of all the kids I think he liked me the best. That was a no-brainer as I was the only one that showed the slightest bit of interest in what he liked. I desperately wanted him to give me one of his racoon pups. I don't have to rely on my own memories of what I used to do when visiting the Grandparents. Everyone in the family knows that I was always off in the woods and actually felt more comfortable wandering around the mountains than sitting around the house listening to boring relatives talk while the kids not so patiently sat there listening.

Grammy and Grandpop's House
(Florence and Charles Mausteller)
These early experiences with the appreciation of plants stand in stark contrast to some of my experiences with plant societies around the world. The dichotomy of my personal formative experiences with my observations of groups of people that professed to love the particular group of plants they were dealing with, could not have been more stark. I have belonged to groups that were basically fronts for social interaction, the plants being an excuse to get together, eat and make new friends. One of the societies dealing with Chrysanthemums never really had meetings at all but was the preserve of the mad-keen collector. "THE LIST" of plants on offer was the be-all-and-end-all of most peoples participation in the Chrysanthemum society. Orders were placed months in advance for what turned out to be rooted cutting wrapped in newspaper. I must admit, this was the first society my mother introduced me to and I took to it like a madman. I even followed the precision growing guide, so that I would get the perfect results. I still have this small book 40 years on! Not sure I have the patience or water supply to do the plants justice now.

Japanese Spider Chrysanthemum
(My favourite was one called 'Chartreuse', slightly more spidery than this and a beautiful green)

As a teenager, the various plant societies and what people in them did, meant nothing to me apart from being a source of information and of course a place to see new and interesting plants. My membership of these societies was actually attached to my mothers membership, so in reality my status was as an observer. My first serious involvement with a plant society, on my own, came at 16 when I joined a local orchid society. The plants were magnificent. It was unbelievable that people could actually grow such wonderful plants in our climate even if it was in a greenhouse. Some people were really friendly and helpful and others thought, 'who was this impertinent upstart?'. Having grown orchids for several years and having a greenhouse full of them made little difference to some of the crusty members. Phil and Jean, Ron and Enola, and Dr Wilson were wonderful. These fine people took me on their regular trips to orchid nurseries and growers and gave me division of some of their plants. The only plants any of them ever wanted from me were the species Paphiopedilums and a couple of Brassocattleyas. Almost none of these people grew Cymbidiums, my favourite.

The Azalea House at Longwood in Autumn
(Longwood was a major influence on my interest in plants and plant societies)
What soon became apparent within the orchid society was that there were distinct groups of people within the group. I immediately got on with what I will term the 'dedicated plant lovers', DPL for short. These people were involved in the society to develop a deep understanding of the plants and to learn as much as they could. My affinity with these people was immediate and has lasted a lifetime. They would ohh and ahh at the beauty, try desperately to remember names and fiddle around with growing conditions to get their plants to thrive and bloom. Rarely, if ever, did any of these DPL's show their plants or put them up for awards. They could easily have done so but really had no interest in it. If plants were needed for a group display they were always first to contribute. This group can contain the compulsive collector, who simply 'has to have' a plant at any cost, but is not neccesarily the person who looks after it as well as they could.

You will all be very familiar with the other types of people involved in orchid societies. These types are the same no matter what group you are involved in, be it orchids, cars, cats, birds, model trains or vintage books. These people are the 'look at me' people. All ego, strongly competitive, controlling and don't miss an opportunity to tell you how good they are and how dumb you are. The collectable, in this case orchids, is a means to achieve status. 'I won this award' or 'I am a judge/committee member/patron of Kafoops Orchid Society' or 'Of course I have that plant' are terms that trip off the tongue very easily for these types. This group contains the gossip-mongers, the people who divide and conquer, split groups and set up splinter groups. This behaviour reminds me of the crucifix scene in the movie 'The Life of Brian'. I can see it now, 100 orchid growers with 10 different groups to service their needs all with slightly different names and dealing with slightly different groups of orchids. It is this type of person that has been causing problems for plant societies for centuries.

Royal Horticultural Societies Garden - Wisley
(Three years of my life were spent at the ultimate plant society and as a steward of the orchid committee)

One of the books my mother gave me during our time together, really highlighted this problem in plant societies. The book, The Dutch Gardener, was written by Henry van Oosten in 1703 and is a terse little tome. He was talking about the tulip societies of his time and specifically about the rich, status seekers with selfish motives. Hang on to your seat, his words are very strong!

'These are the mistaken lovers, that think to deserve the Inclination and Affections of the Ladies, and to enjoy the Treasure of their Beauties without any costs; these are Florists that are not so discreet as Bees, which visit the Flowers without hurting them; but like Swine, they like to scuffle through our Flower-Gardens to cary off their Riches by their Greatness and Impudence; and when they have thus robbed us of these Beauties, without giving thanks to the Profesors, they want to be true Florists. To hear them speak of Tulips is a murdering Noise; the Hearer may wish that they had been Blind or Dumb, or that he himself had no Ears. These Men that sacrifice to unknown Deities, and that adore in the Temple of Flora Gods they know not. These are unskilled Artists that profess Treasures without knowing their Value. '

Lest one think that this behaviour was limited to one society in one country at one point in time here is an example from a century later than the previous quote. In the book The Tulip by Anna Pavord (Bloomsbury, 2000), there are a couple of paragraphs that reminded me of some of the plant societies that that I have become acquainted with but again, this quote deals with people associated with tulips.

On page 182 she states:

At about the same time that Dr. Hardy was thundering in the Midland Florist over the rules governing the perfect English florist's tulip, Monsieur Tripet was doing the same for the French florist's tulip (Tripet (1846). Traite de la Culture des Tulipes, Paris). Tripet was a florist and nurseryman in Paris and in 1843, had swept the board at the spring show of the Paris Horticultural Society, winning the gold medal offered for the first time by the Duchess of Orleans. His exhibit included 800 different kinds of tulip massed together in vases in an artificial bed a metre wide and seventeen metres long. That was only a fraction of the varieties growing in Tripet's nursery, where more than 40,000 tulips bloomed in season. The collection was reputed to be worth a cool 100,000 francs.

Tripet's Paris triumph did not impress the tulip growers of Lille or Tournai whose worst flowers, they said, were better than anything that Tripet had produced for the Paris Horticultural Society. But the members of the Societe d'Horticulture du Nord del la France were always tough on growers outside their own charmed circle. They were pretty tough even on those inside it. The Society's annual report for 1837 criticised so many florists and their flowers that no one would agree to serve on the Society's committee until the reports were dropped. No florist ever seemed to agree with another's judgement, particularly on the show bench, and at this time, at least a hundred amateur tulip growers were keen members of the Society.

These kind of situations are not limited to tulip societies, they can be seen in all the great plant societies that have existed. There are numerous examples from the great societies dealing with Orchids, Pansies, Roses, Pelargoniums, Primroses, Polyanthus, Auriculas, (these last three technically all members of the genus Primula), Pinks and Carnations (both Dianthus), Dahlias, Chrysanthemums, the list goes on and on.

The Orchid Display house at Longwood
Interestingly, a further problem arises when the 'look at me' people take over the balance of power in a plant society. This problem impacts directly on the plant that is the focus of the group. Strictures on the conformity of flowers to the vagaries of human fashion and desire can be found beautifully illustrated in the words of Louise Beebe Wilder in her classic book The Fragrant Path, published by The McMillan Company in 1932. On page 52 is a summary of the temporary downfall of the Carnation due to nit-picking by humans;

'So far as I can find, the popularity of the Carnation has never seriously waned since those early times. Its history has been a series of triumphs and the gay and fragrant flower never for long lost its hold upon the hearts of flower-loving mankind. There was a period, after 1850, according to Nicholson ("Dictionary of Gardening"), when they were for a time quite neglected and some of the older sorts were lost to cultivation. This temporary slump in their popularity was very likely brought about by the fact that the hair splitting and exactions concerning points became so extreme as finally to be unsupportable to the very men who had instituted them. A flower belonged rigidly in a class. It was a "Flake" or a 'Picotee" or a "Bizarre," and its every fleck and marking must conform to the rules and regulations laid down for these classes. To quote Thomas Hogg, who slender "Treatise on the Growth and Culture of the Carnation," 1820, lies before me, "A flower possessed of all the properties called for by the Rules and Regulation laid down in the Societies, where they are exhibited for prizes, is seldom ever met with. Art is called in to the assistance of nature and the skillful hand of the Florist dexterously extracts the self-coloured and defective and overcrowded leaves, and sometimes even will insert others, and arranges and adjusts the whole with surprising nicety." Such artificiality could no longer hold the interest of the public and it probably revolted. '

An old variety of Picotee Carnation

A contemporary example of strictures interfering with beauty was related to me about a Cymbidium society that would not judge a cross between Cymbidium and Grammatophyllum because it was not a Cymbidium. Hello? Who controls the rule book? So what happens if a taxonomist splits a section of the genus Cymbidium off into a new genus? Alternatively, what if Grammatophyllum is lumped into Cymbidium? Would it be ok then to judge it? What about all the other orchid societies that long ago recognised intergenerics and judge them under alliances. 30 years ago I assisted on the Oncidium Alliance judging committee at an orchid congress. There was no problem having Oncidium, Odontoglossum, Brassia and Miltonia all being judged by the same committee. Have we so lost perspective on what qualities make a good orchid that if the name is wrong we can't judge it?

I write this post for a number of reasons but most importantly because of the changed nature of plant societies as they are presently configured and the widespread ill health of orchid societies in particular. Over the past couple of years there has been a marked decline in membership of orchid societies. It matters little if it is a general or specific orchid society. The reasons for this I think can be gleaned from what has happened to the great plant societies in history. The above quotes and examples give some indication of what has happened over time. I have visited a fair few groups over my lifetime and have noticed the same features I first noted over 30 years ago. In recent times the strictures, rules and regulations coupled with a high proportion of 'Look at me' types in the membership has changed the face of plant society life. The majority of people that would like to get involved in groups are put off by the lack of focus on the plants. The focus on competitions and judging has blinded many of us to why we got involved in orchids in the first place, THE LOVE OF THE PLANT.

Grammatophyllum measuresianum

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Working with elegans

Cymbidium elegans 'Atlantis'

Cymbidium elegans 'Atlantis'
Midwinter is a time of conflicted emotions in a Cymbidium collection. The sudden and exciting onslaught of the autumn flowering plants, with their bright colours and fragrances, contrasts with the equally bright and floriferous burst of the spring flowers, now sitting as buds. The mid-winter lull can be quite distressing for some growers. This year has been particularly hard for many. The Autumn rush was particularly abundant. Unfortunately, the winter and spring flowering plants are running very late this year. The midwinter show of one of the local orchid societies a couple of weeks ago had only a handful of Cymbidium in bloom. Normally, there would be dozens of plants in flower for what is typically the start of the 'traditional' Cymbidium season. Nature really is wonderful at keeping us guessing!
One of the delights of the darkest, coldest months of the year is the lovely, Cymbidium elegans. The beautiful light to dark yellow or even peach-coloured flowers, positively glow in the subdued light of winter. The flowers could not be further from what most people view as a typical Cymbidium. The petals and sepals of this plant part just far enough to expose the lip and column, forming pendulous trumpets more reminiscent of a delicate, nodding lily or a yellow-coloured 'English Bluebell'. The base of the flower spike is upright to arching, the section containing the flowers being pendulous. Each flower spike produces up to 40 or so flowers. It is probably the only Cymbidium that is more noteworthy for the overall flower spike than it is for it's individual flowers. This is definitely a case of the whole equaling more than the sum of it's parts.
For a plant that is so beautiful, Cymbidium elegans, has been rarely used in hybridizing. All in all, it has been utilised 20 times in the past 110 years; 11 times as a pod parent, 9 times as a pollen parent. None of these plants seem to have gained any popularity despite their unique beauty. There are several new crosses on their way but it will be several years before we see the first flowers on these plants. This lack of popularity may be about to change!
One of the very early hybrids involving C. elegans is C. Forster Alcock (tracyanum x elegans)raised by J. Forster Alcock in 1909. This is one of those hybrids that would not have taken much thought. Both species flower at the same time and both are beautiful plants in their own right. The hybrid is pretty much what you would expect; a large leafy plant with large upright then arching flower spikes with high flower count. Interestingly, the flowers more closely resemble the elegans parent in colour and overall spike habit and tracyanum in openess of flower and robustness of plant. It has retained the fragrance of the tracyanum parent albeit not as strong. All in all, it is a very pleasant and highly decorative plant.
Cymbidium Forster Alcock
A more interesting and totally delightful hybrid is C. Ides of March (floribundum x elegans) raised by R. Vandyke of Valley Orchids in 1977. The cultivar 'Springtime' has been passed around specialist collections for years but has been, for the most part, dismissed. This is very surprising as it possesses everything you would want in a true miniature. The plant size is small, about 30cm, the spikes have numerous flowers, up to about 30-40 on a well grown plant and it is easy to grow. Even though it has been around for 30-some years it has never been used as a parent in any hybrid. This may be due to the fact that it has never been popular or even known to most growers. Hopefully, this little blog will prove to be the 'coming out' ceremony for this beautiful little debutante. I think it is a totally delightful little plant that deserves to be seen in all its glory!

Cymbidium Ides of March 'Springtime'
Cymbidium Ides of March 'Springtime'

One of the more spectacular of the C. elegans crosses in flower at the moment is C. April Showers (Rincon x elegans). This lovely cross was produced in 1985 by that breeder of all things wonderful, Keith Andrew. It has to be one of the most inspired crosses. Who would think to cross a pink-flowered standard Cymbidium with and yellow-flowered arching-pendulous species with relatively small flowers with unconventional shape? Well, the result speaks for itself. I have two clones of this lovely hybrid; 'Elmwood' and 'Apricot Nectar'. 'Elmwood' has smaller, more open flowers on a modest-sized plant. 'Apricot Nectar' has much larger flowers with broader segments and more interesting colour. You pick, they are both very beautiful to me.
Cymbidium April Showers 'Elmwood'
Cymbidium April Showers 'Elmwood'
Cymbidium April Showers 'Elmwood'
Notice the dark pink edge to the midlobe and sidelobes of the lip.
Cymbidium April Showers 'Apricot Nectar'
Notice the much wider petals and sepals and blush pink overlay on the sepals.

Another C. elegans hybrid just coming out at the moment is C. Cariad (elegans x devonianum) raised by Keith Andrew in 1976. Cymbidium Cariad 'Plush' is probably the most popular first generation C. elegans hybrid. This fully pendulous little plant has beautiful starry, yellow flowers with a remarkable labellum marked by two large purplish patches on either side. In Melbourne, this plant is appearing in many collections, taking pride of place amongst it's larger and more conventional 'Pendulous' Cymbidiums.
Overall, C. elegans, strongly influences spike habit and to a reasonable degree flower colour. The drooping, trumpet shaped flower is not a strong characters and seem to be easily compensated for even in first generation hybrids. The arching flower spike is particularly attractive. The general floriferous nature of C. elegans hybrids, two spikes per bulb, make this elegant species a real or at least potential contender for breeding highly productive pot plants. Give these interesting hybrids a try. They are modest in size, floriferous and provide just that bit of contrast to the normal collection of Standard, Intermediate and Miniature hybrids.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pleasant Monday Afternoon

Today was my day off. It is Melbourne Cup Day tomorrow. By using only one of my leave days, I can get a four day weekend. This public holiday is based around a horse race The Melbourne Cup. This horse race is not any old horse race but 'The race that stops the Nation!'. Nothing like a bit of hyperbolic language. I grew up with horses. I got a horse for my 7th birthday, a filly named Princess. I think having to shovel horse s__t every day from the age of 7 until I turned 17 has permanently put me off horses. My dislike looking after horses could have been triggered by Princess throwing me off on my first attempted ride and biting me when I tried to feed her strawberries. I did laugh when she used to steal my fathers tobacco pouch out of his back pocket. She was a very clever horse. Don't get me wrong, I like horses but I will never again own one. I prefer orchids. They don't leave 'droppings'.

It amuses me that I would be heading to a rural store to pick up some supplies for my greenhouse. My parents used to drive me to the West Chester Rural Store to pick up hay, straw, molasses-soaked oats, chicken feed and laying mash. Today's trip was much different. First of all there was just one person in the car. Secondly, it was well over an hours drive to get to this rural store. This was a special trip and a special rural store. Monbulk Rural Store specialises in greenhouse supplies as well as the normal farm 'stuff'. On the way up I thought about Princess and the sights, sounds and smells of the West Chester store. I remember the smells in particular. Molasses oats held a particular fascination. The horse ate the oats, surely they were good enough for a seven-year-old?

My reverie came to a screaming halt upon sighting the CLOSED sign on the front door of the rural store. Dang, an hour and twenty minutes drive and nothing to show. Now it was another hour and twenty home. Hmmmm, what to do in the hills? The Dandenong Ranges is a wonderfully scenic area and very popular with tourists. Nearly every little town has a specialist bakery, deli and plant nursery. Hmmmm, eating and looking at plants. It was a tough assignment but I was up to it. Lets see, savory or sweet? Coffee and pecan pie would have to suffice. Such suffering.

Now, what plant nursery to look at? Too late for spring bulbs so how about alpine plants? Gentiana Nursery it is. Those boys certainly know how to grow a plant! Do I really need that blue Corydalis? No, not today. Lilium canadense? Yep, can't do without that. A couple of more Cyclamens for my collection? Why not, you can never have too many forms of C. coum. While many of the plants are beautiful, they are not really the love of my life.

The orchid twitch was getting to me. I rarely get over to this area. Why not visit one of the orchid guys. Thank goodness for smart phones. One quick phone call and down the road we go. Lunch first. Forget fancy food, orchids are more important. Quick sandwich and a drink and back in the car. Isn't it amazing when you are anticipating something? You can never get there quick enough.

Even though it is supposed to be the end of the Cymbidium season here in Melbourne you wouldn't have known it walking into the sales area of the nursery. What a riot of colour. There were some of the more widely known Cymbidiums there including the hybrids with the Australian native cymbidium species canaliculatum, madidum and suave. There were a range of the grex Phar Lap in full flower, notably the clones 'Geyserland', 'Apricot Gem/Glow' and the monstrous deep red 'Red Rider' . Appropriate really that a Grex named after a famous race horse should be in flower for Melbourne Cup Day!

The bench on the side of the sales area was strictly a display area, all the plants clearly marked NFS. This small area, next to the cash register, contained all the really interesting plants. Below are a few of the plants that caught my eye. They are not really my taste in Cymbidiums but you just can't walk by a plant that screams out at you. The first two are, to me, are bizarre. To some in the Cymbidium world they would be very precious. As the nurseryman said 'Any plant that produces the 'green stuff' is a good plant'. He wouldn't be getting my green stuff for these plants, even if they where for sale.

Cymbidium Tethys x sanderae

The plant above caught my eye first and then perplexed me when I saw the label. Tethys 'Black Magic' is a large spotty purplish red. Sanderae is considered by many to be a species, some question this. The flowers of sanderae are white with a pink suffusion and a large heavily red-marked labellum. It would appear that the sanderae parent has been totally dominated by the Tethys parent in the above cross.

George Formby
(Tethys X Esk Claret)

Another hybrid nearly totally dominated by the Tethys parent. Esk Claret contributes the red colouration. There was water on the flower, hence the shiny bits on the labellum.

(Electric Ladyland X Vogelsang) X Last Tango

(Electric Ladyland X Vogelsang) X Last Tango

While more conventional looking than the other plants this was a real standout on the display bench. The flower spikes were vertical in their lower half and abruptly arching in the upper half. What a colour and what a beautiful display. The Vogelsang hybrids are particular favourites of mine. I would have bought this one!

The visits to the cafe and nurseries were more than ample compensation for not being able to make a purchase from the rural store. I got to think about my childhood, had a good feed, saw some amazing plants and even brought a couple home. A good day really. Maybe it was more than a Pleasant Monday Afternoon. For the first time in my life I have entered a sweep on the Melbourne Cup tomorrow. I am praying that horse #22 does well!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Not one you see everyday!

Cymbidium Musita X Vogelsang

Today was a photography day. It wasn't the best day as far as weather goes. Cold and windy outside with lines of clouds passing by. Actually, I should say the occasional line of sun passing by. I had the camera set up in the studio and would race in when a sunny patch arrived. I was going to work outside today but paperwork kept me in the warm and dry. Each sunny patch lasted about 5 minutes but that was enough to get a dozen plants photographed.

It was interesting taking the photos today. Sometimes the flowers look more interesting in the photographs and sometimes the other way around. One of the plants that made it into the studio today was a pendulous hybrid. This plant first started flowering about 2 months ago but decided it was going to flower again now. Many of the Cymbidiums, at least here in Melbourne, have funny flowering times this year. When it was pulled off the bench there was yet another spike just breaking the sheath. This is one prolific little plant. The flowers are not all that large, about 70mm across, but they are a fascinating colour. The colours are actually more eye-catching in real life. If you click on the above photograph it will go to a much larger size.

Yesterday, while visiting a nursery I spied a plant that made me think of a friend of mine in California. A picture was duly taken so at least he could see it, even if he couldn't own it immediately. When I got home I downloaded all the pictures from the nursery and pulled up each to name them and file them. When I pulled up the picture of the peloric hybrid for Joe, I had second thoughts about dismissing it as something I would not grow. Thankfully, there was time to go back to the nursery and pick it up for my greenhouse. This was one plant that didn't get really appreciated until it was viewed completely filling a 24" screen

Back to our mystery plant! Goodness, it is easy to get sidetracked. I was originally going to post the picture at the start of this blog on my Flickr account. Well, that was the case before the thought came to me that it had sufficient interest that it might qualify for another 'Guess the Hybrid' posting on the International Cymbidium Alliance web forum. This plant is particularly interesting because if you look really closely, you can see both of the parents in this plant. So here we go. Can anyone guess the hybrid?


If you are reading this post you are undoubtedly interested in Cymbidiums. If this is the case, are you a member of the CYMBIDIUM SOCIETY OF AMERICA? If you are not a member, can I suggest that you join? It doesn't matter if you are in the USA, Australia, South Africa, Denmark or Azerbaijan. We can all be members! Plant societies worldwide, are suffering at the moment and need all the support we can give them. Already declining memberships have been even more severely impacted by the Global Financial Crisis. If you click on the hyperlink here or above it will take you to the CSA website. At the moment you have to print out a membership form and post it to them. This is a small price to keep an invaluable plant society going. Remember, it is not just the information you get from the Journal, the shows, the meetings and the web forum that is paid for with your membership. It is the long history, documents and photographs accumulated by the society over the years that you are supporting. Let us all help support the present CSA and ensure that it has a future and can maintain its past.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Cymbidium tracyanum

Cymbidium tracyanum 'Atlantis'

I just love Autumn in my shadehouse. The cool dewy mornings. Fogs in the valley. Still air filled with the smell of decomposing vegetation. The smell of Cymbidium tracyanum wafting through the shadehouse, along the verandah and past the back door. The sweetly spicy smell of the Cymbidium contrasts with and compliments the other smells of autumn in the Australian forest. This smell signals to me the start of the main early Cymbidium flowering season. I know in a few weeks the frail looking but incredibly long-lasting C. erythrostylum will be blooming. It is also a reminder that it is time to plan my birthday dinner!

Cymbidium tracyanum is one of those species that can not fail to impress. It is a large and imposing plant. A well grown plant will bring ooh's and aah's from the uninitiated and the most hardened orchid buff. It's exotic looking flowers and fragrance are sufficiently intoxicating for everyone to be taken totally into it's spell even if only for a few minutes. Reality strikes when the size of the plant is contrasted with the growing space of the collector. Hmm, lets see, one specimen plant of C. tracyanum or ten 8 inch pots of other more restrained species or hybrids?

Of the larger-flowered Cymbidium species, Cymbidium tracyanum is one of the largest plants with the largest flowers. Plants are commonly about a metre tall with large pseudobulbs (up to 15cm tall) and long arching leaves (up to 1m long and 4cm wide). Flower spikes are usually up to a meter or so long and produced at an angle. In my plants, spikes are commonly disposed at a forty-five degree angle and gently arch from about midway. Other forms have flower spikes that are nearly horizontal or point up at a 60-70 degree angle and these spikes may or may not arch. Each spikes produces up to about 20 flowers and the flowers are commonly 10 - 15 cm wide and a little less high.

Cymbidium tracyanum was one of the early imports to the gardens of the west. It first came to the attention of the gardeners of a Mr. Tracy from Twickenham in England. I say 'first came to the attention of' because it was not an expected part of a shipment of what was meant to be C. lowianum. When it flowered, there was obviously a fair degree of excitement. It was immediately taken to the Royal Horticultural Society Orchid Committee and judged as being worthy of a First Class Certificate. It was named shortly thereafter in the Journal of Horticulture, and surprisingly, named and described a few days later in a competing journal The Gardeners' Chronicle. It was formally illustrated the following year in The Gardeners Chronicle. I can not image what it would have been like for the gardeners at Mr. Tracy's greenhouses when this plant flowered. Below is a picture of the plant that they first 'discovered' and that was awarded on the 9th of December 1890. This plant has been passed down through the generations and is still grown by many people around the globe.

Cymbidium tracyanum FCC/RHS

It is interesting to note, that at first, it was not clear where plants of C. tracyanum were coming from. Several plants showed up in shipments of C. lowianum and it was one of these shipments, from a known area, that alerted the collectors where to look. The third importation, with the known locality, did not flower until 1896. Upper Burma (now Myanmar) was the place to look. Thankfully, by 1900 plants flowered that were collected by a man named A. F. G. Kerr. He found these plants near Chieng Mai in Northern Thailand. It wasn't until 1940 that the actual habitat of C. tracyanum in the wild (Burma) was described by Francis Kingdon-Ward. His description of the habitat includes the phrases 'wet evergreen hill forests' and 'Growing in the fork of a tree overhanging a stream in a deep gully'. One can only imagine the sight of a fully mature plant of C. tracyanum growing high in a tree.

It always fascinates me that some people and even some botanists have difficulty identifying this plant. Granted, it is hard to decipher the finer details of a flower from a herbarium sheet. When I read that some botanists could easily confuse C. tracyanum and C. hookerianum from the herbarium sheets my immediate thought was how? Have you ever tried to press a cymbidium flower? They all end up looking about the same. Most pressed orchid flowers are a plain dark brown with all the subtleties of shape and colouration lost. There are however some very simple and clear features that separate C. tracyanum from all the other large-flowered species even when they are squashed and dried.

The first and easiest-to-tell feature of C. tracyanum that jumps out at you, even from a herbarium sheet, are the two callus ridges on the labellum that are densely covered in long transparent hairs. The labellum also has long hairs scattered all over it, particularly along the edges of the sidelobes. In all the pictures presented here you can easily see them. Some people refer to these hairy callus ridges as 'Toothbrushes'. An apt analogy. Cymbidium hookerianum also has hairy callus ridges and hairy sidelobes on the labellum, but the hairs on the callus ridges of C. hookerianum are few and far between. Hardly comparable to a 'toothbrush'. More like the first few hairs on the chin of a teenager!

The petals are a dead give-away. In the terms of the botanist they are 'falcate'. This literally means 'curved like a sickle'. This varies in degree between different forms of the species: some are only lightly curved, more like a scythe, others so tightly curved that they nearly make half circles. The spots and stripes of the flowers, while certainly distinctive, are shared by several other closely related species.

Another feature, not commonly preserved on herbarium sheets, that separates C. tracyanum from all of the other larger, cool-growing Cymbidiums is the upward-pointing roots. These roots are about 3cm long and form along the sections of the main roots closest to the base of the plant. These types of roots occur in several other Cymbidiums but mainly amongst the 'hard-leaved' tropical types. It is commonly thought that this type of root configuration helps the plant to catch falling organic matter or to provide extra air to the roots. Literally the Cymbidium equivalent of pneumatophores in mangroves or 'knees' in Swamp Cypress.

For any grower of C. tracyanum you would have to wonder how such a distinctive plant could be confused with any other Cymbidium. A couple of advantages a grower has is their sense of smell and the ability to see the plant in growth. Being complex animals that can process multiple stimuli at one time, we humans can easily and readily distinguish between various species with just a little practice. The fragrance of C. tracyanum is very distinctive: sharp, strong and spicy. It is a deep fragrance: very rich, complex and cloying. Once you smell it, it will stick in your brain. Of course, all the shape and colour of the flower is readily visible in a growing plant. A feature not apparent on herbarium sheets and not listed very often in the literature, is how the flower spikes are produced. Unlike almost all of the larger flowered cool-growing Cymbidiums, except for C. erythrostylum, C. tracyanum produces it's flower spike on the maturing new growth, before the pseudobulb is fully formed. The spike doesn't actually arise from the very base of the pseudobulb but from amongst the cataphylls (leaf-like bracts) or basal leaves.

You would think that a species such as C. tracyanum would have been used extensively in hybridization. Well in many respects it has been, but not as much as you might think. To date is has been figured as a parent exactly 100 times in first generation hybrids. It is more informative to see how and when it has been used. There was a flurry of breeding soon after its 'discovery' but once Cymbidium insigne came on the scene in 1901, with its tall spikes of white or pink flowers, C. tracyanum lost favour. The hybrids produced with C. tracyanum as a direct parent are generally what are called 'reptilian' in colouration. Lots of browns, yellows and greens with spots and stripes. Present day growers call these colours 'muddy' if they are mixed with white or pink. Oh the fashion of the orchid world, giving way to light colours and tall spikes in preference to interesting colours, fragrance and tons of 'personality'.

An interesting side note is that C. tracyanum has been used only 29 times as a pod parent (mother) but 71 times as a pollen parent (father). Some have suggested that there are clones that are fully or partially sterile as a pod parent. This may or may not be true. From what I can find out this may be gardening lore. Certainly, the disproportionate number of times it has held a pod compared to contributing the pollen, makes one pause and question.

The influence of C. tracyanum did not fully wain. There were second and third generation hybrids that proved to be spectacular. Some of these early hybrids, some now approaching 100 years of age, are still popular. Cymbidium Grand Monarch is probably more popular now than it has ever been. The hybrid C. Lustrous, is being re-introduced in to present day breeding programs. Even lowly old C. Doris, the stalwart of every Cymbidium collection in Melbourne, Australia, has been remade using selected parents. The results are far removed from the original cross and highly desirable in their own right.

Now you would think that many of the more complex hybrids created with C. tracyanum in their background would be spotted. Some are, many are not. The main features of hybrids with a high proportion of C. tracyanum in their ancestry are: early flowering, easy flowering, large flowers and a range of colours except for white. The classic shape of C. tracyanum tends to be dominant in first generation hybrids but is quickly lost in the second and third generation. Many of the early hybrids were in the yellow/green range but there are good examples of pinks and orange as well.

Unfortunately, there is a major fault with the early hybrids and indeed all first and second generation hybrids containing C. tracyanum. Although the flowers are beautiful on the plant, they tend to be a bit shorter-lived than hybrids produced from other species such as C. lowianum. The other fault, from a cut-flower growers point of view, is that the flowers wilt within hours of being cut. For some reason, the stems do not draw water fast enough to keep the flowers turgid. I guess we just have to content ourselves with growing them as potted specimens and enjoying them as is. Let me see, is there a problem with that?

Orchid growers being orchid growers are not content with just one 'normal' form of the species. Well at least this orchid grower isn't. As mentioned earlier C. tracyanum has been collected many times from the wild and from right across the range of the species. Like all wild-collected plants some are more attractive than others. Flowers vary in size and colour intensity. Some are more free-flowering than others, although all the ones I grow are amongst the easiest of Cymbidiums to flower.

Until recently most people selected the darkest forms they could find. Some of the older clones that were paler or had less spotting were thrown out in preference to the next darkest clone to come down the track. Some of these clones, such as 'Dark Boy' and 'Black Knight' and 'Red Knight' are incredibly dark red/brown with very little of the greenish/yellow base colour showing through. At the other end of the spectrum are clones such as 'Tamborine' and 'Randall' that more closely resemble the colours found in the 'average' wild plant. Interestingly, albanistic and albino forms of the species have found their way into cultivation. These forms go under the names of 'Alba' for the true albino and 'Albanistic' for an extremely pale form. In a recent book called The Genus Cymbidium in China, a species called C. gaoligongense was described. It is now widely recognized that this species is actually an an albino form of C. tracyanum. It is a clear yellow with a white labellum and orange-lined sidelobes.

Over the years interest has turned to procuring better and better forms of the species. Hybrids between selected clones have produced a range of colours and in many cases increased the size and number of flowers on the spike. It is really hard to say which of these intraspecific hybrids is the nicest. Each has a quality all their own. Below is a selection of various clones of C. tracyanum. You be the judge.

Cymbidium tracyanum 'Atlantis'

My friend Julian has been growing this plant for many years. It is a very robust grower that commonly produces two spikes from each pseudobulb. Last year his plant had 27 flower spikes on it. The plant was 1.5m across with the flower spikes taking it to well over 2m wide and 1.5 m high He was going to take it to the local show but could not fit it in the van. Mind you, even with help it would have taken 4 men to lift it.

Cymbidium tracyanum 'Jay Pruette'

This clone was a wild collected plant supposedly imported from Thailand. Unlike many of the other clones of C. tracyanum, the background colour of this form is green but fades to yellow just before the flowers die. I particularly like the reddish patch at the base of the petals and sepals. In real life, especially with the oblique autumn sun hitting it, this red patch just lights up.

Cymbidium tracyanum 'Randall'

This is the clone that I have had for about 25 years. It is the most rampant growing form that I have. Unfortunately, the flower spikes are generally produced at the same level or lower than the leaves. It needs a little bit of encouragement to display its flowers well in a pot. I can imagine that this form would be particularly attractive viewed from below when growing in a tree. The green mass of the leaves providing the perfect foil for the multiple spikes of flowers below. Paler flowered than many other clones but also larger flowered than many. This plant was brought back by a friend from a collecting trip to China.

Cymbidium tracyanum 'Royale' 4N

This is not my plant nor my photo! This plant is the result of a crossing carried out by Kevin Hipkin of Royale Orchids. This was a purposely bred intraspecific hybrid of two particularly nice forms of C. tracyanum. The resulting seedling were treated to convert them to tetraploids. One of the unfortunate things that happens with the 4N versions of C. tracyanum is that the typically 'sickle-shaped' petals tend to be a bit less so. On the up side, the intensity of the spotting on the labellum tends to increase.

Cymbidium tracyanum 4N (un-named form raised by Julian Coker)

This plant flowered in a group of seedling of the cross C. tracyanum 'F1' X C. tracyanum 'Albanistic' from Andy Easton of New Horizon Orchids. This cross produced some amazing looking plants but for my tastes they lacked some of the charm of the more wild-looking forms. My tastes are obviously my tastes. This plant has a legion of admirers including it's owner. Big fat stems and big fat flowers with amazing colour but alas, only about 12 flowers on a stem.

Other clones from the above cross turned out to be 2n. These varied in colour intensity and configuration. Many of them were beautiful in their own right but were again a step away from the forms found in the wild. It is interesting to see how these intraspecific hybrids accentuate different features found in the wild species.

Cymbidium tracyanum 'F1' X C. tracyanum 'Albanistic' 'clone 1'

Cymbidium tracyanum 'F1' X C. tracyanum 'Albanistic' 'clone 2'

Cymbidium tracyanum 'F1' X C. tracyanum 'Albanistic' 'clone 3'

Now the story doesn't end here! Although interest in using C. tracyanum as a parent declined markedly after WW1, there has been a recent resurgance in its use as a parent and capturing its qualities in second and third generation crosses. Kevin Hipkins in Australia is one of the leaders in this field although there are many others as well. These 'Children of Tracy' will appear in a future blog. Be prepared for some suitably 'dark' names. Some of the names of these hybrids are truely disturbing. Pywacket, Valley of Death, Death Wish, Road Rage and the soon to be named Ethanasia!!!