Saturday, 22 November 2008

Luculia gratissima (new photo)

Here is a photograph from November 2004. The same bush fro the earlier posting. In fact this is the last and only bush left growing at Monserrate. Unfortunately comparison between postings will show a marked decline in vigour. Less light due to overhead competition is most likely the cause.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008


Monserrate - Music Room

Castalides, Aonides, Heliconides, Pegasides, and Phebiades: these are names derived from places haunted by the muses. There is a fountain called Castalia, at the foot of Mount Parnassus. The Castalides are the nymphs that inhabit this fountain. Not one of the nine muses, the name is generally applied to all of them.
The fountain of Castalia was sacred to Apollo. Castalia was a nymph who threw herself down a well to escape his amorous advances. The Pythian priestesses bathed in the waters of this spring, before delivering their oracles of the god.
In the Music room at Monserrate there were 16 spandrels to be filled with medallions and busts; so a few extras were needed. The use of these general names seems to imply that at Monserrate there were many muses, not just the famous nine. The muses were nymphs that inhabited springs and fountains, and each part of the garden has its own denizen.

There are no attributes shown with this figure.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Furcraea bedinghausii


This is a most distinctive plant, with a long and most confusing history. It has been grown at Monserrate since the earliest days of Francis Cook, firstly as a Yucca, then a Roezlia, and finally as a Furcraea bedinghausii. Finally that is, until sr. Gárcia-Mendoza made his revision of the genus in 2000. We must now learn to call it Furcraea parmentieri.

Long-lived and prolific, it is found all over Sintra. Monocarpic and spectacular in its floral demise, thousands of plantlets are produced, each capable of generating a new plant with the greatest of ease. Many thousands must have been slipped into pockets and transported to new homes by generations of Sintra tourists. Lazy gardeners, tired of novelty, have reproduced them prodigiously. All of that is fine. The effect is extremely handsome.

A decade is nothing to these plants. They grow slowly to achieve considerable bulk. Trunks three or four metres high with crowns almost 2 metres in diametre. After ten or twenty, or more years, they will throw up an extravagant flowerspike - often five metres above trunk height. Millions of creamy white lilies are hung from this great scaffold. A few will produce seed pods, but the rest sprout viviparous shoots that turn into bulblets. Some winters, especially cold and wet ones, will produce a flowering bonanza, the giants commiting collective suicide, leaving behind a population of dwarfs to take their place.

The Magazine of Horticulture, Botany and Rural affairs, 1860, gave notice of the introduction of Yucca parmentieri to English collections. Most likely, it came over to Portugal shortly afterwards. They have been grown with great success at Tresco since 1894 (Will Giles). In 1900 it was described in the catalogue of the Southern California Acclimatizing Association, of Santa Barbara. No doubt it had reached these parts long before. The nomenclature was already confused: "Yucca Parmentieri and other names; one of the most striking and majestic decorative plants; a very rapid grower: builds a stout trunk 15 feet high"

La Belgique horticole, journal des jardins et des vergers
1863, volume 13. Lithograph by L. Severeyns-Michel

Megarosettes of Furcraea bedinghausii indicate a vegetation type restricted to the rolling, dissected, rocky lower slopes of a few volcanoes in central México, such as Pelado (3090-3340m) and Tláloc. Soils are shallow, gravely, loamy clays (pH 5.0 – 6.5). Half-meter-high monocaulescent agavaceous megarosettes of the endemic Furcraea bedinghausii characterize this community. The maximum height ever measured for Furcraea is 5.3m. A floristically rich but relatively open herb layer is common. Other characteristic species include Senecio angulifolius, Stipa ichu, Symphoricarpos microphyllus, Conyza schiedeana, Muhlenbergia macroura, M. dentate, Geranium potentillaefolium, Gnaphalium oxyphyllum, Alchemilla procumbens, Sibthorpia repens, and Festuca amplissima.

Barbour & Billings, North American Terrestial Vegetation, p. 584

Related species: Furcraea longaeva Karw. & Zucc.
Type-Locality: Crescit in summo monte Tanga, provinciae Oaxaca, 10000 pedes supra Oceanum in declivibus Quercubus et Arbutis cositis., may 1829
Collector and Number: W.F. Karwinsky s.n.
Distribution: Mexico (Oaxaca); Guatemala

Coastal slopes, Oak-woodland with Arbutus. Once again sounds like Sintra.

Furcraea parmentieri – Amaryllidaceae

Furcraea parmentieri (Roezl ex Ortgies) García-Mend.
García-Mendoza, A. 2000. Revisión taxonómica de las especies arborescentes de Furcraea (Agavaceae) en México y Guatemala. Bol. Soc. Bot. México 66: 113–129.
Furcraea longaeva subsp. bedinghausii (K. Koch) B. Ullrich (Cactaceas y suculentas mexicanas 36(2): 35. 1991)
Furcraea bedinghausii K. Koch (Wochenscrift des Vereines zur Befördung des Gärtenbaues in den Königl. Preussischen Staaten für Gärtnerei und Pflanzenkunde 6(30): 233. 1863.) Type : Morren, Belgique Hort. 13(11): 327, t. (1863)
Yucca parmentieri Roezl ex Ortgies Gartenflora 8(9): 278. 1859.

Extensive list of synonyms identified by García-Mendoza, A. 2000
Agave argyrophylla K. Koch ; Agave toneliana (K. Koch) E. Morren
Beschorneria floribunda K. Koch ; Beschorneria multiflora K. Koch
Furcraea bedinghausii K. Koch ; Furcraea roezlii André
Lilium regium Trel.
Roezlia bulbifera Roezl ; Roezlia regia Lem. ; Roezlia regina Trel.
Yucca argyraea Trel.; Yucca argyrophylla (K. Koch) Lem. ; Yucca parmentieri Roezl ex Ortgies ;
Yucca pringlei Greenm. ; Yucca toneliana K. Koch


Here didst thou dwell, in this enchanged cover,

Byron Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
Canto the Fourth CXVIII

Egeria's fountain : central spot
Of this our shining temple --- hewed
Its reservoir from fragment rude,
Of Cintra's solid marble, led
From Serra's steep, its rocky bed ;
And raised within its circle wide,
On structure, rich Carrara's spoil,
Ruling the splashing water's moil,
Behold the fabled Nymph descried.

Thomas Cargill
Fairylife in Fairyland

The watery nymph has flowed away. The central spot of this shining temple stands forlorn.
Egeria's fountain marks the crossing of Monserrate's central corridor and the North and South Porticos. The statue is gone, but there remains a fine plinth and basin as decribed by Cargill. The white marble statue of a young woman bathing stood about 80 cm high.

Similar statue auctioned at Christies: A fine Italian marble figure of the water nymph Egeria By Giulio Monteverde, Rome, Dated 1874 The naturalistic base signed and dated to the back Monteverde/Roma/1874, on circular stepped partial pedestal with octagonal base.

From Cargill's poem we learn not only the subject of the fountain, but also that the basin, carved with an ivy motif was made locally, and that the pedastal is of Italian manufacture.

Egeria was a water nymph, sometimes ranked as the goddess of fountains.


Monserrate - Music Room

She shall have music where ever she goes. Third of our musical muses Terpsichore is the muse of song and dance. More properly choral song, never a problem with so many sisters. The attributes shown here a tambourine and a set of pan pipes. She wears the poets' laurel.


Monserrate - Music Room

With flowers in her hair, Euterpe is the bringer of joy, muse of lyric poetry and music. At Monserrate she is placed right next to Cecelia, patron saint of music, and to her left is Terpsichore, muse of song and dance. Her attributes are musical instruments, here the oboe, horn and trumpet. The chaplet in her hair is curious since it contains as well as flowers, bunches of grapes and ears of corn, traditionally used to identify the seasons, or abundance, Flora or Ceres, here perhaps they signify abundant joy.

Classical portraits always show the double flute.

Euterpe from Ovid's Metamorphoses 1563 edition
by the Neurenberg woodcutter and engraver Virgil Solis.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Senecio mikanioides

Bom Jesus de Braga

A weedy plant that is often classified as invasive. (In Madeira, it is a decided nuisance, but less of a problem in dryer climates.) Relegated from the garden, it is to be found climbing rusty chain-link fences or on rubbish heaps. Nevertheless this little vine lights up many a dull November day. It is not as refined a plant as the related Senecio tamoides - the differences are that mikanioides has more weedy (cucurbit-like) foliage and the flowers are more of a groundsel - somehow it still has its charm. Here as photographed this week at Bom Jesus it is concealing some abhorrant barbed wire!

It is highly recommended by the Belgian L'illustration horticole Vol I 1854, under the name Delairea odorata (recently resurrected see below). "Trop rare dans les jardins" ! Delaire was the head gardener at the Jardin Botanique d'Orléans. It was illustrated in Vol 6 of Horticulteur Universal (Mai 1844). Described as "une plant fort désirable, en raison de son pittoresque port, de son curieux foliage, de ses nombreuses panicles de petites fleurs jaunes, dont l'arôme rappèle tout-à-fait celui de l'Heliotrope du Pérou." Recommended for cold greenhouses, to climb pillars or decorate hanging baskets. Flowering abundantly througfh the winter. Needs frost free conditions, indifferent to soil.

Native of Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.

The lady behind, bearing a sturdy-hulled ship, represents Confidence. But that is another story.

Of course as with most Senecios we should again now use the old name (since 2006)

Delairea odorata Lem. Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 2006. Magnoliophyta: Asteridae, part 7: Asteraceae, part 2. Fl. N. Amer. 20: i–xxii + 1–666.

Senecio mikanioides Otto ex Walp. Allgemeine Gartenzeitung 13(6): 42. 1845.
Cacalia scandens
Cacalia bryonoides - the foliage is indeed just like bryony
Mikania senecionides
Bryonia palmata - a name used in French nurseries
Ipomaea hederacea - a name used in German nurseries - hence the totally inappropriate common name "German Ivy"!


Doryanthes palmeri (April 2008)


Some gardens need big plants. This is a giant. When ‘The journal of horticulture, cottage gardener and country gentlemen’ of 1876, described Doryanthes it warned that it was a plant for the conservatory “as the flower stem grows to a great height before the flowers expand”. Perhaps there were a few Dukes amongst the readership, for this plant would require a most noble glasshouse. Flowered at Kew in 1882. It was exhibited at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886.

At Monserrate it is used as an accent planting at the foot of a monstrous Araucaria, just alongside an equally immodest clump of giant Strelitzia. It is a plant well adapted to the local climate with a number of clumps spread throughout the garden.

Doryanthes palmeri has leaves that can reach three metres in length. The flower spike is said to reach 5 metres, but arches down under its own weight. An Australian botanist describes it as a toothbrush?! Doryanthes excelsa is a (slightly) smaller plant. The flower spike is vertical. Walter Oates, head gardener at Monserrate in the 1920s, called it "a bowl of flowers".

Doryanthes excelsa (April 2008)

Recently reclassified into a family all of their own Doryanthaceae. The Botanical blurb describing the new group does not require much of a grasp of Latin to get the gist:

Plantae giganteae foliis in rosula maxima spiraliter aggregatis

The families of the Monocotyledons
Dahlgren, Clifford, & Yeo

Both species come from Australia. A place where I guess there is plenty of room! D. excelsa grows naturally in dry woodland on sandstone soils in NSW, whereas D. palmeri is found on exposed rocky outcrops in damper forests of coastal ranges of both NSW and Queeensland (no wonder it likes Sintra).

D. excelsa : details of inflorescence (April 2008)

Doryanthes excelsa Corrêa Trans. Linn. Soc. London 6: 211. 1802.

Doryanthes palmeri W. Hill ex Benth. Flora Australiensis: a description . . . 6: 452. 1873.

These plants are so distinctive the botanists seem to have left them well alone. Only Bailey tried to lump them together, reducing D. palmeri to a variety of its little brother.

Doryanthes excelsa var. palmeri (W. Hill ex Benth.) F.M. Bailey A Synopsis of the Queensland Flora 538. 1893. (Syn. Queensl. Fl.)

Dorothy English Paty (1805-36)
Gigantic lily - Newcastle Nov 6th 1835


Monserrate : Cascade

Transported from Ancient Greece, the Muses of Monserrate have their home just beneath the cascade (near the entrance at the top of the garden). At the foot of Mount Helicon, a spring rises where winged Pegasus stamped his foot into the hillside. Hippocrene is its name, and it is regarded as the source of all inspiration.

A circle large, expanding wide,
Steep fenced with rock on every side,
Deep cut in Helicon’s fairy mount,
Holding our Hippocrene’s fount ….
(I'll spare you the rest)

‘Fairy Life in Fairyland’ gives us the Victorian garden programme. Thomas Cargill, a Lisbon doctor, was responsible for this outpouring though he wisely chose to conceal his identity with a pseudonym. However inexpressibly bad, the verse of this poem holds valuable clues to the aspirations and fantasy of the garden’s maker: Francis Cook.


Monserrate : Music Room

Clio, the muse of history, or heroic poetry. Hence the rolls of parchment and the pen. Actually she looks rather like Sappho's sister. Perhaps our artist was running out of models or inspiration. The same laurel crown too. In this case it stands not for poetry, but for everlasting Glory and Honour. But what about the trumpet? According to Cesare Ripa, the emblematist, Clio holds this instrument to represent the Fame of those she favours.


Monserrate : Music Room

Sappho was an Ancient Greek Poetess. Like Cecilia an historical person, albeit rather legendary. Her attributes shown here: laurel crown, pen with scrolled manuscript, a lyre. Just as Cecilia suffered at the hands of Pagans, Sappho of Lesbos suffered at the hands of Christians. Her manuscripts, including poems hundreds of lines long were destroyed by burning. First by Pope Gregory Nazianzen in AD 380 and then again by Gregory VII in AD1073. Only fragments have survived.

Such was her fame that Plato called her the "tenth muse". Hence her inclusion in the Music Room pantheon. The Victorian Sappho was an idealised figure constructed from fragments of her poetry and legend. She was a favourite representative of Greek Revival art.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Fascicularia bicolor

Fascicularia bicolor subsp. bicolor
Photo (c) Gerald Luckhurst, Nov. 2008


This plant is found at both Monserrate and Pena, growing by the thousand in dense clusters under trees. It is easily, though strenuously, propagated through division; it is by this means that this bromeliad (pineapple family) has spread all over Sintra. For all that, it is a rare sight to see one in flower, as in the example photographed above. Flowering would be more profuse if these plants were not relegated to such poor growing conditions. They are so tough that they are found only in places where little else would grow. The occasional flowering specimen is found always growing atop a stone wall, or on a rock, and in reasonable light.

Fascicularia growing in Oak Trees in Wales

The Fasicularia was introduced to European gardens from Chile in 1851. It grows in the high Andes where it is generally terrestrial. It is also found on seaside rocks as at Tierra del Fuego.

Fascicularia bicolor subsp. canaliculata is found as an epiphyte in some regions of Chile. It is known as “Chupalla” which means a straw hat. Growing in evergreen forests where there is rainfall of 4,600 mm a year, it exploits and dominates an aerial habitat. The forest trees are covered by climbing plants and epiphytes. Vegetation is so dense that very little direct sunlight reaches the forest floor. During the winter months the region is covered with snow (980m altitude). It is one of the hardiest of all bromeliads.

The fruit, never seen in Sintra, is eaten in Chile. It is fleshy, sweet and refreshing when sucked on, hence the plants have another common name “chupón”.

Fascicularia bicolor (Ruiz & Pav.) Mez Monographiae Phanerogamarum 9: 9. 1896.

Formerly known as Rhodostachys bicolor, or litoralis,
The widely used synonym Fascicularia pitcairniifolia has been demonstrated to be invalid.

Luculia gratissima

Photo (c) Gerald Luckhurst Nov.2008


It is somewhat singular that a plant of such superior excellence as this, both in the magnificence of its large clusters of delicate pink flowers, the period of their development, and the delicious perfume they constantly exhale, should still remain, after having been in the country so many years, a comparatively scarce species.

Paxton 1844

Luculia gratissima was introduced from the temperate Himalayas in 1823 and is illustrated in Curtis's Botanical Magazine (t. 3946). Another plant from our friend Dr. Wallich of the Calcutta Botanic Gardens. "It is impossible" he says "to conceive any thing more beautiful than this tree, when covered with its numerous rounded panicles of pink-coloured, very fragrant, blossoms. It is a native of Nepal and Silhet ... it delights in exposed, rather naked situations, flowering, according to the locality in which it is found, nearly the whole year through."

One of the reasons that this plant is so rarely found in Europe is precisely its requirement for an open growing situation. As a glasshouse plant it seldom suceeds. Victorian growers found that the atmosphere of the stove was too close and that the greenhouse was too cold and damp. At Monserrate it has proved very hardy and of great longevity. Whilst today there survives only one plant there were just a few years ago several bushes. Those that have disappeared sucumbed to close competition.

Despite the comments of Wallich this plant flowers but once a year. But this is at the coldest and dampest season and for this it should be greatly cherished.

(c) Gerald Luckhurst, Nov. 2008

Luculia gratissima (Wall.) Sweet; The British flower garden ser. 2: t. 145. 1832

Formerly known as Cinchona gratissima Wall. Flora Indica; or descriptions of Indian Plants 2: 154-156. 1824. (Fl. Ind., ed. 1820)

and Mussaenda Luculia Ham. in Don Prodr. Fl. Nep. p. 139

Saint Cecilia

MONSERRATE - the Music Room

This figure, looking like a pre-raphaelite version of the Statue of Liberty, is placed immediately to the right of Apollo. For such is her right as patron saint of music. This is her room. Nevertheless Cecilia is given a place among pagans that, as a martyr, she would perhaps dismay. After all they tried to cut off her lovely head !

St. Cecila with a crown of rays in a late 19th century stained glass

The pointed crown is a halo, not a disk or nimbus as used by early Christians, but the flaming disk of Hellenistic art, more properly applied to Apollo and his bretheren. Just as Renaissance artists reinvented the halo as a hoop (because it could be more readily represented in perspective), the plastic artist at Monserrate has opted for a form more convenient as plaster sculpture. Even so a number of rays seem to have lost their point.

'St Cecilia', John Melhuish Strudwick

Saint Cecilia, according to legend, is the inventor of the organ. She is always portrayed with this and other instruments.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Apollo Musagetes

Apollo and the Muses1921Oil on canvas283.21 x 428.62 cm (111 1/2 x 168 3/4 in.)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


At the head of the Music Room, looking down the long enfilade of the arched corridor is Apollo. Leader of the dance, encircled by his Muses, he commands this mythical space, the central figure of Monserrate’s complex iconography.

Sunday, 9 November 2008



Thalia, Muse of Comedy, her name derives from the Greek thallein (to bloom). She is usually depicted as a young woman crowned with an ivy garland, holding a mask and a shepherd's staff.
It seems appropriate to begin with the "blooming" Muse. Monserrate's Muses are to be found adorning the spandrels of the pointed arches supporting the music room dome. Generally nine in number a few more were added for good measure ... and symmetry.

The Music Room at Monserrate has 16 "Muses" including one who is not a Muse at all: Musagetes.

Thunbergia coccinea


Photographed in late October 2008 this flowering vine has bloomed at Monserrate for at least eighty years. First mentioned by Walter Oates in his article published by the Gardeners Chronicle in the 1920s.

Gerald Luckhurst
Oct. 2008

Thunbergia coccinea
Tropical jungle flowering vine, pendant scarlet flowers from late autumn and through the winter. Vigorous evergreen tree climber for warm frost-free position. Originally introduced from Nepal (Nepal eastwards to Burma, also grows in W. China, Indo-China and Java).

Seeds were sent to Kew from the Calcutta Botanic Garden around 1825 by Nathaniel Wallich and grown in "festoons" in around the gallery of the Palm House. It was rarely grown in amateur stove houses because of generous growth and shy flowering .

N. P. Manandhar Plants and People of Nepal gives habitat as "moist and shady places at 300-1800 m". The flowers are cooked as a vegetable, juice of the plant is applied to cuts and wounds and the root is chewed to treat boils on the tongue. The vine is used for binding.

Thunbergia coccinea Wall. ex D. Don, ; Prodromus Florae Nepalensis 120 (1825).

formerly known as
Hexacentris coccinea (Wall. ex D. Don) Nees in Wall., Pl. Asiat. Rar. 3:78. 1832.
Flemingia coccinea Hamilton