THE GREAT WATER LILY
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY WILLIAM SHARP,
FROM SPECIMENS GROWN AT SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS, U. S. A.
BY JOHN FISK ALLEN.
PRINTED AND PUBLISHED FOR THE AUTHOR,
BY DUTTON AND WENTWORTH, 37 CONGRESS STREET. 1854.
( Color Images © The University of Kansas Spencer Museum of Art - Click to enlarge )
Description of the Plant | Its Root | Leaves | The Bud | Flower | Blooming | Stamens | Pistil | Seed or Fruit
Page 2 Cultivation in the United States | Temperature and Soils | The Plant in Salem
Conclusion | (Gallery &) Description of the Plates
The first flowering of this lily in the United States took place at Springbrook, near Philadelphia, the seat of Caleb Cope, Esq., 21st August, 1851. In a letter to Mr. A. J. Downing, Mr. Cope says : " I am sorry you were not here to witness the excitement which prevailed when the Victoria bloomed for the first time in this country, and when my grounds seemed to be in complete possession of the public. Since that event we have had a weekly contribution of a flower, the fourth one maturing last evening. I send you a report from my gardener, which will be interesting to those who wish to look into the detail of the culture and treatment of the plant. The committee on plants and flowers of the Horticultural Society were present on the second flower blooming. They measured the petals, which they found seven inches in length, and the crown or disk of the flower, three inches; thus making the diameter of the whole, seventeen inches. This is three inches larger than any flower produced in England. The leaves are also six inches larger than any grown there. The natural conditions of the plant in our country are, undoubtedly more favorable than they can possibly be in England. There the water is at 85° generally and the atmosphere at 75º; here it is just the reverse, which is, without doubt, more like its native country. I am satisfied that we have hit upon the right method of cultivating the plant, and that both flowers and leaves are equal to any found, either in a native or foreign state, in any part of the world. We have had no fire since the 21st of June. The flower, last evening, was more gorgeous than any of its predecessors. As its conversion was going on, in its second stage, it seemed that the pink or red line greatly preponderated over the white. I cut the flower, placed it on a thin circular board, a foot in diameter, which it completely covered, and sent it to a wedding party. The Victoria is one of the few things that has not been exaggerated. It is truly a wonderful plant."
By the diary of the growth of this plant we learn, that the seed "germinated on the 10th of April, 1851. On the l7th, the second leaf appeared, of a form similar to that of the Calla Ethiopica, being long and tapering, from a broad blade. On the 21st, a third leaf appeared, of like form. The 25th, the fourth leaf reached the surface, and was in the shape of an ellipsis, one end, however, being separated, till near the point where the petiole and leaf were united. May 3d, the fifth leaf appeared, which reached its maturity on the 6th; was nearly round, and measured 3 1-8 inches in diameter. The 9th, the sixth leaf appeared; it was quite round, and measured, at maturity, 3 7-8 inches. From the l6th of May to the 22d July, both inclusive, seventeen leaves appeared and matured. On the 27th July, the twenty-fourth leaf appeared: this leaf exhibited a beautiful salver edge, as have all its successors; it measured 5 feet 8 1-2 inches in diameter. July 31st, the twenty-fifth leaf appeared, and measured at maturity 6 feet 4 inches. August 6th, the twenty-sixth leaf appeared, and measured at maturity 6 feet 4 1-2 inches. August 10th, the twenty-seventh leaf appeared, and measured 6 feet 6 inches: this leaf is six inches larger than any produced in England, of which we have any account. August 13th: this morning we discovered, to our great delight, a flower-bud rising a little in advance of the twenty-eighth leaf, which was also approaching the surface. August 15th, the twenty-eighth appeared. The 21st, the flower opened between five and six o'clock, P.M.: color, pure white; form, globular; very fragrant, odor strongly resembles highly cultivated pine apples. On the subsequent day, the flower remains in its primitive globular form, (with the exception of a slight variation,) until five or six o'clock in the evening, at which time it undergoes a complete transformation. So novel is the appearance of the transformed flower, that were we not conversant with its nature to 'metamorphose,' we could not believe it possible to be produced from the same plant. The petals become reflexed, lie prostrate on the water, and expose to view a disk so beautiful in color and form that I am sorry I cannot find language to describe it adequately. In its form it resembles a crown of some of the ancient kings of England, especially so when the flower has reached its climax. The disk, which first appears quite smooth and flat, becomes, in a very short time, perpendicular petalous-looking anthers, surrounded by others of crimson, embosomed in pure white. Thus it floats in its glory through the night, declines as the rays of light approach, the succeeding morn, and ultimately sinks into the element from whence it arose so noble and grand."
This plant was placed in the tank, in which it has since remained, on the 24th of May, 1851. Fire heat was continued by night to the 20th of June. During this period the thermometer averaged 85º. The preparation of the tank was, first, a covering of the bottom with charcoal and pieces of brick, to the depth of two or three inches, and half a dozen two-horse cart-loads of charred loam and leaf mould placed therein in the form of a mound. The temperature of the water, after artificial heat was dispensed with, varied materially, at times as low as 70º, and as high again, as 83º. The glass of the house is frosted with lead ground in oil, to prevent injury from the too powerful rays of the sun. The house is kept nearly closed. Fresh water is admitted by day.
Mr. Meehan, the head
gardener of Mr. Cope for the past two years, wrote the following
account of the above plant for the Horticulturist of 1852. It
can be found at page 205: --
I had the pleasure of seeing this plant in October, 1852. It had then two buds on the surface of the water, and was in a healthy condition. In 1853, the last of September, I again visited it; the 137th flower had just closed, and was yet floating on the water, while the 138th bud could be seen just emerging from the scale of the leaves, showing every indication of health.
From Baron Schomburgk's Views in Guiana, we learn that the mean temperature of the lily country is 81º.02 Fahrenheit; the maximum 90º, and the minimum 72º. The season in the interior is marked by two changes. From August to March, there are only occasional showers; but from March to August, there are heavy rains, when the rivers more or less overflow their banks. The following graphic account of the vegetation in the country, near which the lily was discovered, is from the above-named work: --
"Gigantic trees raise their lofty crowns to a height unknown in the European forests. Lianas cling to their trunks, spread over their branches to their summits, and fall again to the earth. The limbs and trunks of trees, the stones and rocks, and even the surface of the water is covered with a carpet of plants, with magnificent flowers. Nothing can give a better idea of the luxuriance of the vegetation than the splendid Victoria Regia, the most beautiful of the flora of the Western hemisphere, no doubt one of the most remarkable productions of the botanical world." This lily (says the same author) "covers, in conjunction with the azure-colored Pontedira, divers retricularae, a species of polygonum, Pistia, and numerous gramineae, occasionally the whole surface of the river, so as to impede navigation."
The soils near the mouths of the rivers of this region are said to consist of rich, black, carbonaceous substances, of vegetable origin, often four or five feet deep. The mountain regions are composed of colored ochres, indurated clays, granite, gneiss, and trappan rocks, with a total absence of limestone, or its modifications.
In cultivating this plant it would unquestionably be wise to supply a soil like the above. That used by myself was chiefly sods, with all the soil that could be taken up with them. They were taken from a grass mowing field, the soil of which was a good yellow clay loam. After having been partially burnt and heated by fire, this soil was placed in a box, in the centre of the tank, and some perfectly decayed cow manure and leaf mould added, to a small extent, not more than one eighth of the whole. This answered the purpose well. Nothing was used at the bottom, like bricks or charcoal, to prevent the soils becoming too solid, neither can I perceive any necessity for such precaution in a water tank.
In its native country it is planted now in places near the sea coast. Four or five seeds are enclosed in a ball of soil or earth and cast into the water, and this simple method has succeeded well.
The seed from which lily plant was produced was presented me by Caleb Cope, Esq. It was ripened at Springbrook, the seat of this gentleman, near Philadelphia. It was sown in loam, overflowed with water to the depth of five or six inches, being merely covered with the soil. When the plant commenced its growth, which was on the 13th day of January, 1853, the seed appeared on the surface of the soil. The first shoot was like to a blade of the finest grass, and in eight days had lengthened three or four inches. January 22d, the second shoot appeared, grew to the length of six inches, was stouter than the first, and had an arrow-shaped termination. Jan. 29th, the third shoot came out. This was, at maturity, nearly nine inches long; in form, not unlike the small leaves of the Calla Ethiopica. February 5th, the fourth shoot appeared. This reached the surface of the water, and floated a leaf, measuring at maturity 4 inches in length by 1 7-8 in width. Feb.1lth, the fifth came out, and, at maturity, measured 4 3-4 by 2 3-4 inches. Feb. l8th, came the sixth, which, when matured, was 5 1-4 by 4 inches. From March 2d to May 30th, both inclusive, the plant put forth fourteen leaves, each successive one measuring from one to six inches more in diameter than its predecessor. The ninth leaf assumed the round form, and all after this have been nearly so. The salver edge appeared on the twenty-first leaf, and all those of after-growth were of that form, the edge measuring 2 to 3 1-2 inches in depth. This increase continued during June and the early part of July, the twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh leaves being the largest grown this season, and measuring when fully expanded, 71 and 71 1-2 inches in diameter. On the l8th of July, the twenty-eighth leaf appeared, and this, with the succeeding ones, gradually lessened their dimensions as the days shortened.
The first flower-bud was seen on the third day of July, just emerging from the scale. It reached the surface on the l3th of July, six months after the seed vegetated. On the approach of night, the bud sunk under the water. On the 15th, a second bud was seen approaching the surface. The 21st, a third bud was visible, and the second reached the surface. This bud, pursuing the same course as the first, when evening approached, gradually settled down under the surface, to rise and stand erect again the following morning. At 4 P.M. of this day, the petals, a pure white, began to unfold, and from 5 to 6 they rapidly opened, showing the flower in its first form. It remained in this condition until after six, the next morning. Soon after 7 A. M. the flower began to change -- the outer petals, expanding wide, showing the centre and yet erect ones tinged or spotted with crimson, at this moment measuring thirteen inches across. At 11 o'clock, these outer petals began to close, and at 12, meridian, all but the calyx lobes and one row of the petals had closed loosely. From 4 to 6 P.M. the flower again opened, and exposed to view the inner and crimson petals. At 6.30, the staminate petals raised themselves, assuming an erect position, widening, however, by a slight curve at the extremities. At 7, the stamens had followed, and the bloom was completed. By 9 P.M. the interior or third set of petals and the stamens had become of a golden hue, and at this moment the flower was very beautiful. On the morning of the 23d, it was closed partially, and as the day advanced, this process continued, until it sunk under water.
July 24. The fourth bud discovered to-day. On the 28th, the second flower opened, and as my friend, the Rev. J. L. Russell, has written a just and much more poetical description of the blooming than I can do, with his permission it is here used: --
"In the still and secluded bays of the Amazon and in the shallow waters of the forest lakes of tropical America, grows a vegetable wonder, the Victoria Regia, or Royal Water Lily of South America. The patience and skill of man has borne this magnificent plant from its native home, and transplanted it in the gardens of these northern regions. It has been lately my good fortune to have seen a specimen of this regal lily, and to 'consider how it grows.'
"In November, 1849, it first blossomed under cultivation in England; in 1851 it produced its flowers in Philadelphia; on the 21st July, 1853, it blossomed in Salem, and on Friday it showed another splendid flower in that city.
"First the bud presents itself, supported by a stout spiny stem, and lying on its side just above the surface of the water. As the sun rises and heats the atmosphere, it assumes a variety of positions, now standing almost perpendicular, now lifting itself gradually, and now lolling from side to side of the tank. As the luminary of day sinks in the west, the sensitive bud, as if regretting its departure, in its sorrow sinks beneath the water and is scarcely seen. On Thursday afternoon, at 4 o'clock, two of the outer flower leaves (calyx) sprung off with great force, and, in three fourths of an hour from this time, the regal beauty of the waters had displayed its first stage of glory! As each broad petal unfurled itself, it fell partly backwards, until three distinct rows formed a cup of rare elegance and of apparently the whitest purity. The still air of the greenhouse was now filled with its rich perfume, as if it were some conscious Beneficence silently blessing all in its august presence. This chaste cup of ivory-like color was set off by the yet unfolded interior flower leaves (petals), betraying a few streaks of carmine tints, whose splendor was yet to be revealed.
"As the still shades of evening stole over us, the proud queen of the waters remained in an unchanging serene beauty, and awaited another day. For nearly twenty-four hours, it was much the same, the expanded petals charging their positions somewhat, and partially closing at meridian; but about 4.30 P. M. on Friday last, nature resumed her office in the panorama of this vegetable marvel.
"The first evidence of the unfolding was the somewhat sudden springing apart of the interior petals. As they opened, so each change showed something new and gorgeous. Here, on one portion, was the flower leaves (petals), no longer of ivory whiteness, but tinted with delicate rose; on another part were streaks and dashes and spots of rich carmine; and on others were pencil markings of the same color, and of a feathery outline; on others still, the crimson color was intense, and some petals were of that entire color, except at the very base, where a clear white obtained.
"Thus the regal lily had assumed her robe of state, and was attired in a drapery of Tyrian splendor, 'such as Solomon in all his glory could never boast.' Nor was this all. The proud attire of the queenly plant was not yet assumed. The plastic hands of the servitors of nature were yet to mould the royal diadem and crown their lovely monarch. The interior of the flower appeared like a large button carved out of delicate rose-colored carnelian, with its centre depressed. In a few minutes the eye could perceive a change. The depression rose visibly to the surface, and presently it became of a conical form. The rosy and narrow petals also, swelling at their curved portions, gradually became erect, and the points of each petal, standing close side by side, made an empalement of a circular outline. As this rapidly appeared, the interest of the spectators was at its height. In a few minutes the entire spectacle was to be completed. At last, the golden anthers were visible, and the triple coronal circle of their narrow laminae stood up around the precious disk of the flower, to minister to its future destiny and to complete its work. The stately beauty of such a spectacle could scarcely be comprehended at this moment of its fulfilment. It fills my mind even now, and appears more exceedingly strange and fearfully pleasant as distance and time lend their enchantment to the scene."
A bud and leaf continued
to appear, and a flower to expand, on every sixth or seventh
day through August. The last of this month and the early part
of September, the temperature of the house and of the water was
kept very low, to harden the plant, if possible. As an enlarged
house was found desirable in order that the tank might be of
more ample dimensions, circumstances required the entire removal
of the house containing the lily. Unfortunately, the weather
became very cold soon after the removal, and the mercury fell
on several nights as low as 42º to 50º, Fahrenheit.
Fires were kept under the boiler at night, and every precaution
taken to shelter the plant by covering the tank with boards and
carpets. The temperature of the water decreased from day to day,
and when the glass was put upon the house, the 16th day of September,
it was 67º. The effect produced upon the plant was more
apparent on the flowers and buds than upon the leaves, checking
the growth of both, but more effectually that of the buds.
The account by Mr. Cope of the flowering of his, the first Victoria Regia grown in this country, together with a diary of its progress from the seed to its blooming by his gardener, may be found in the Horticulturist, Vol. VI, page 460, a condensed account of which we have copied, page 11. It will be noticed on comparison that the first flower-bud followed the twenty-seventh leaf and with the twenty-eighth in both plants. The salver or upturned edge to the leaf appeared at an earlier period of growth on my plant, which I attribute to growing it at a lower temperature of the water. My plant vegetated at midwinter, and as no artificial heat was applied to the water after the first of June, its progress may be considered as satisfactory.
To grow the plant under the most favorable circumstances, the temperature of the house should be not less than 70º at night, and 80º to 90º by day, when the sun shines; that of the water being not under 74º, nor higher than 85º, Fahrenheit.
Here, in conclusion of the account of the culture of the lily in Salem, it will be proper to state that I have aimed to grow the plant during our summer without aid from fire heat; relying simply upon the protection of a glass covering for a suitable climate. This was all that was required in June, July and August. The last of August we had changeable, and some very cold weather. On several mornings the temperature within the house was 62º, Fahrenheit; that of the water, 68º to 70º. This cool weather was succeeded by great heat, and the plant did not appear to be injured. By these trials, and the result of them, I am led to the conclusion that the plant will survive and be healthy under this temperature, provided the weather be clear. A higher temperature is decidedly to be preferred, effecting more rapid growth of leaf and flower, consequently affording a greater number of blooms, under the most favorable circumstances being capable of producing a flower every third or fourth day; and with this low temperature requiring double that time, which delay is still more increased as the sun withdraws to the south.
The delay consequent upon preparing further illustration than originally intended, has postponed the completion of this treatise. This has been increased by the earliest seeds sown remaining eight months in the tank before vegetating. Additional drawings of the young plant being deemed essential as confirmation of the correctness of previous ones.
The past winter of 1853 and '54 proved very cloudy, stormy, and severely cold; on several nights the mercury falling to 17º below zero of Fahrenheit. The temperature of the water in the tank, with that of the air of the lily house, was kept at all average of 75º. Had it not been for the unusual cloudy weather, I have good reasons for supposing that the plant would have survived. After October, when continuous cloudy and stormy weather prevailed, it would suffer severely; reviving and giving hopes of its recovery on the re-appearance of sunshine. An excessive fall of snow, attended with great cold and high wind, on the last days of December, and repeated early in January, so covered up the house with ice and snow as effectually to shut out the light and warmth of the sun for a week or more. Continued cloudy weather during January completed its destruction, having survived rather over one year, and continuing to send up flower buds to the last. Possibly it may have been weakened by the low temperature consequent upon the erection of the house, and by the non-agitation of the water, --the covering over the tank rendering it impossible to work the water wheel during this time.
Seeds were again furnished me by Mr. Cope, but they did not grow. More were procured by Professor A. Gray, of Harvard University, from Sir Wm. J. Hooker, Director of the Royal Gardens at Kew, near London, and planted in March. The 11th of May, one of these commenced growing. On the 5th day of June, the third shoot from a seed planted last October, obtained from Mr. Cope, was discovered coming to the surface of the water from a depth of five feet. These plants advanced rapidly. Should no accident happen to them, they may be expected to blossom in September. The original plant of Mr. Cope's, now on its fourth summer, remains in health, and has borne over 200 flowers.
It does not appear to be an easy or simple matter to bring a Victoria Regia to maturity. 1 have sown many seeds, in every possible position under cultivation, and only a very few of them have vegetated. Many individuals, in various sections of the Union, have unsuccessfully made the attempt. Others, having succeeded in raising plants, have lost them after one or at most a few blooms. Even Mr. Cope, whose success has been so great, failed in his first attempts, having as early as 1850, through the hands of Thos. P. James, Esq., Secretary of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, received seeds from Sir Wm. J. Hooker. The late Mr. Downing furnished him with a further supply. The plants raised from these were killed by too much heat. A second parcel from Sir William, furnished the plant yet alive, -- the source whence all have emanated in this country, with the single exception of my plant now growing from the seed furnished Professor Gray.
The ill success in preserving the plants alive and in health on the approach of and during the winter, causes some yet to think the plant an annual. It suffers in cloudy weather from the want of its native tropical sun. The proper action of the leaves is interfered with; black spots appear and spread rapidly upon them, only checked by the reappearance of sunshine. When assured my plant was dead, which was when it ceased to send forth buds or leaves, it was uncovered so as to see the condition of the roots. There was found a tuber or a Rhizoma of a beet red color, partially decomposed; with a countless number of rootlets, some yet alive, others dead, and a mass of decomposed matter below all. During its decline, every method that could be thought of to preserve it was tried, and a correspondence with Mr. Meehan, the head gardener at Mr. Cope's at that time, was maintained, in the hope that his experience might be the means of suggesting some change in its management which would result favorably; notwithstanding, we were disappointed in this hope. Extracts from these letters, as they throw light upon its proper treatment, and confirm the statements of gentlemen who have examined the growth of the plant in its native waters, are here given. Mr. Meehan differs in one thing only - he has never found the Rhizoma or tuber, and does not think the plant has this. The examination of my plant establishes the fact, and confirms Mr. Spruce's examinations upon plants found on tributaries of the Amazon, if any confirmation was necessary. This is readily accounted for by the fact of the quick decay of every part of the plant. Had the examination of the Salem plant been delayed one week, it is probable nothing but rootlets would have been found, as this had softened on the outer surface. Mr. Meehan says, during the winter of 1851-52 - "The leaves of our Victoria became spotted and died away, as yours have done; sometimes an entire leaf would turn black in one night. Supposing the cause to be an escape of gas from the flue, this, with Mr. Cope's consent, was removed, and the hot water pipes alone relied upon for affording heat. After this, the plant did not suffer so much as before; still sometimes the black spots would appear. In the spring, nearly all the water was drained out, and a few inches of new soil put in; and for some months none of these spots appeared. Towards the fall, air bubbles from the soil became numerous, especially near the middle, where the plant grew; and I noticed that when any bubble came up under a leaf it soon produced the black spot. On trying common air it did not cause that effect. An oily substance floated to the surface where the bubbles burst. A few inches of sandy loam, with three cart-loads of sandy washings from the turnpike, was put in the tank over the soil. This had the desired effect; there were no more spots or bubbles, and the plant increased in health and beauty. Thus far all was well; but the young plants kept going back, and some of them died. I decided to turn them out and examine the structure of the roots more closely than I had ever done. This afforded me a valuable lesson. I learned how the Victoria might be sometimes an annual and sometimes a perennial, and I doubt now, although it has been flowering and growing more than three years in this tank, whether it is entitled to take rank with perennials as we usually understand them. Not a single root or even cell alive now, will be alive after the decay of the present living leaves. There appears no living stem. The roots push from the base of the leaf-stalks. They do not put forth till the leaf begins to unfold above the water. If the leaf becomes injured the roots push feebly; if much hurt they do not push at all. When a leaf dies, or is cut off, the roots in connection with it die, and so does what may be called the stem, with which it is connected. Thus the plant is constantly raising itself higher in the soil, and allowing the easy escape of injurious gases from its decomposition. This discovery suggested several things: -- first, the necessity of preserving with the greatest care every particle of the leaves in the greatest health possible; and secondly, to add frequently a layer of fresh soil for the new roots to push in, and to prevent gaseous exhalations. These, with a temperature not below 65º or 70º, will enable the Victoria to live for any number of years in the same spot."
That Mr. Meehan did not find a Rhizoma or tuber in the young plants, may be explained by the fact that time and age must be requisite before this can be formed. Mr. Spruce, whose examinations of the plant were made on tributaries of the Amazon, had plants, of full growth in abundance before him. There, this Rhizoma or tuber was found, and its habit of decaying below and forming upwards established. The appearance of new rootlets at the base of the stem (petiole) of the new leaves, with the decay of the old ones, on the death of the attendant leaves, was stated by him, as confirmed by the examination of Mr. Meehan.
The expense, the great care requisite, with the extreme difficulty of growing the Victoria Regia in a climate so rigid and unsuitable as this, of the Northern States of America, will render the cultivation of this plant very rare.
The heat and moist atmosphere of the lily house, caused by so large a body of tepid water, renders a long continuance in the house unpleasant, and, to an invalid, an unwarranted exposure. By the aid of this treatise and the accompanying illustrations, one may fully appreciate its beauty and wonderful growth. In the agreeable temperature of his parlor he may contemplate the changes of leaf, bud, and flower: to witness which, in its native or artificial waters, days of exposure to a tropical climate must be endured.
It is always advisable, when convenient, to obtain a view of the living plant; but many cannot do this: to such, it is hoped, these descriptions and illustrations may afford instruction and gratification.
Description of the Plant | Its Root | Leaves | The Bud | Flower | Blooming | Stamens | Pistil | Seed or Fruit
Page 2 Cultivation in the United States | Temperature and Soils | The Plant in Salem
Conclusion | (Gallery &) Description of the Plates