Saturday, 18 April 2009

Doryanthes 1858


Although it has been my lot to behold, in their native soil and surrounded by their native sky, the finest specimens of the floral world — the cocoa groves, near Bahia, the arborescent Rexias and Melastomas of the same place, the mile-wide meadows of Epacris, Dalvinia, and Gomphalobium, in Australia — yet, taking it all in all, I think that the Australian Gigantic Lily is one of the finest plants in the world. In the first years of the establishment of the colony of New South Wales, it grew near Sydney, but its extreme beatify must soon have made it an object of destruction for the idle and ignorant, and we may now travel a hundred miles inland before seeing it ; the more so, as it is not a gregarious, but quite a solitarily growing plant. Its very name implies that it belongs to the sixth class of Linnaeus (Hexandria Monogynia), and the natural order of Liliacere of Jussieu. The best description and delineation of it has been given by Ferdinand Bauer, the companion of Robert Brown, in his " Illustrationes Floras Nova; Hollandire," of which very rare work, the copy formerly existing in the British Museum, is missing. The Australian Gigantic Lily has flowered once or twice in this country, and has been described in some of the botanical journals. I shall, therefore, give rather a description of its form and splendour as it grows in its native soil. Imagine a straight stem of a Liliaceous plant, twelve to fourteen feet high, on which a number of bracteae are disseminated. The base of this stem is surrounded by a number of fine lustrous lanceolate leaves, about two feet long. On the top of this stem appears the bunch of flowers, which, at a distance, seems as a piece of scarlet fluttering in the breeze. There were about twenty single flowers combined in this inflorescence, each of the size of the common white lily, but, to repeat, they are here of the most brilliant scarlet. In all my travels in Australia, I met only with one solitary flowering specimen, in the Five Islands south of Sydney. It stood on an elevation of fine alluvial soil, overshadowed by a few palms, and other semi-tropical plants. It would be impossible to dry the whole bunch of flowers for the herbarium, so I cut it into several, perhaps, twenty specimens, which became exsicated rather slow, but made fine specimens, the colours being thoroughly preserved. The Gigantic Lily has no smell, as if nature did not want to expend all merits on one single plant. I did not dig up this plant, as the tuber would have been overgrown, being that of a flowering plant, but my friend, Richard Cunningham, gave me several bulbs from the public gardens of Sydney; they were of the size of the largest Brazilian Amaryllis, but more elongated. As the great phytophile, Baron Ludwig, in Cape Town, wished to have some bulbs for trying them at the Cape, I forwarded some to him, but I have not heard whether they succeeded in that climate. The Australian Gigantic Lily is one of the plants which, if it could be grown in the Crystal Palace, would attract tens of thousands of visitors. Even a wax model of the inflorescence, in its natural size, would be highly interesting, and I made preparations to have one made; but as this could only be done from the splendid engravings of Ferdinand Bauer's work, missing in the British Museum library, I must yet bide my time.

The Floral World and Garden Guide
Vol. I
London, 1858

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