Sunday, 10 May 2009

Rhododendron altaclerense (Botanical Register 1831)

Edward's Botanical Register
London : James Ridgeway, 1829-1847
Vol. 17 (1831)
Plate 1414

RHODODENDRON* Alta-clerense.
The Highclere Rhdoodendron.
Nat. ord. ERICEAE Juss. (Introduction to the natural system of Botany,
p. 182.)
RHODODENDRON.-Suprà, vol. 1. fol. 37.
We have on several occasions lately presented our
readers with figures of hybrid Azaleas of great beauty
raised at Highclere, the seat of the Earl of Caernarvon.
Lovely as those were, their ornamental character is almost
as nothing compared with the subject of this account, in
which every thing of beauty that a plant can possess seems
collected, fragrance alone being wanting. With a clear
transparent crimson colour, rendered still more bright by
a few distinct spots of a darker hue, are combined a fine
bold outline, a great breadth of surface, and the utmost
symmetry; while the deep rich green of the magnificent
foliage forms a back-ground in the most perfect harmony
with the lively tints of the blossoms.

The history of the creation of this superb plant deserves
to be particularly described, as it not only shews how great
the power of man is over nature, but holds out to us a
prospect of the most gratifying kind in regard to the future
gayness of our Gardens.

Rhododendron arboreum is, as is well known, an Indian

* Well may this be called the Tree of Roses (greek : a rose, and greek, a
tree), if we picture to ourselves a plant, twenty or thirty feet high, covered
with blossoms of such lively colours as those represented m the accompanying
figure. Alta-Clera is the name of Highclere in Domesday Book, and in
ancient writings.

plant, bearing blossoms of an intense carmine, and having
a stature equal to that of a small tree, but not hardy enough
to live in the open air in this country, and also less beautiful
than might be anticipated from the rich colour of its
flowers, in consequence of the small size of its bunches.
Some years ago it occurred to Lord Caernarvon, that if a
hybrid variety could be obtained between this and some
one of the hardy American species, the result would be a
more robust constitution on the one hand, and a great brilliancy
of colouring on the other; and also that if the pollen
of R. arboreum could be employed, the stature of the
hybrid would also be increased.

An opportunity of ascertaining the justness of these
expectations having occurred, the experiment was tried in
the manner detailed in the following letter from Mr. Gowen.
How completely Lord Caernarvon's anticipations were
realised, is shewn by the same account, and by the accompanying
figure. To the hardiness of R. catawbiense is
added the arborescent habit and rich colours of R. arboreum,
while the contracted clusters of the latter are exchanged
for the spreading bunches of the former.
Highclere, May 13, 1831.

"You desire to have the history of the lovely Rhododendrons
of which I sent you flowers a short time ago. They are
intermediate between the magnificent Rhododendron arboreum of
Nipal and a seedling Rhododendron from R. catawbiense, which had
been fertilised by the pollen of Rhododendron ponticum. From the
period of the introduction of Rhododendron arboreum into the
Highclere Garden by my friend Dr. Wallich, and more particularly
since its inability to withstand the rigour of this climate had been
ascertained, Lord Caernarvon became desirous of producing a cross
breed between it and the hardy species. We were not fortunate in
bringing Rhododendron arboreum into bloom so early as we wished.
Being on a visit at the Grange in the autumn of 1825, I observed a
specimen, which had been planted out in Mr. Baring's magnificent
Conservatory, with flower-buds upon it. Mrs. Baring was so kind
as to place one of the umbels at my disposal when it should come to
flower. Three plants of hardy Rhododendrons were selected early in
the winter, and removed from out-borders into boxes in readiness;
and early in the spring of 1826, I received from the Gardener at the
Grange a fine umbel of the flowers of Rhododendron arboreum in a
tin case. Their pollen was used in fertilising the flowers of the hardy
species which, by previous concert, had been brought into contemporaneous
bloom. The result was the production of a number of capsules
containing good seed, from which were raised above 1800
plants, which have been extensively distributed to Nurseries and
private Gardens both in England and Scotland. The plants retained
by Lord Caernarvon shewed flower-buds in small quantity late last
autumn. Some of the most perfect were removed into pots early in
the present season from the shrubberies, and, being placed under
glass in a cool conservatory, have flowered. Upon their beauty I
need not dilate; you have seen specimens, and are in a condition to
form your own opinion. The plants are quite hardy, having never
been damaged in the slightest degree by the winters of this climate;
but they are very excitable, shoot very early, and will therefore in
early springs be liable to be injured by late frosts. They make
extremely vigorous growth, and, judging from the analogy which I
have observed to prevail in hybrid productions, I am inclined to believe
that they will attain to the height of 20 feet and upwards. Their
foliage is very ornamental.
" Believe me, my dear Sir,
" Very truly yours,
" J. R. GOWEN."

There are in the Gardens other Rhododendrons having
a somewhat similar origin, one of which has been figured
lately by Mr. Sweet, under the name of R. Smithii; but
they cannot be compared for beauty with the truly noble
R. Alta-clerense.
J.L. [John Lindley]

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