by Kit Knotts - Click images to enlarge
Image from Shigitatsu
Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac was born March 6, 1830, in Granges-sur-Lot,
Lot-et-Garonne, France, southeast of Bordeaux, where his family
owned extensive properties. The family home was named Chateau
le Rouge. His early education was in that region, in Toulon,
and he then studied law in Paris. When his studies there were
disrupted by the revolution of 1848, he returned home to supervise
the family properties. In 1852, he married and settled in Le
Temple-sur-Lot, two miles from his birthplace.
As were many members of his family, he was very interested
in plants, and expressed it at an early age. When he returned
home, he was able to give free rein to his passion. He built
a large greenhouse on his property and filled it with tropical
plants. Rare species of trees were planted in his garden.
Here begins confusing and conflicting information about Latour-Marliac's
interest in aquatic plants. We have drawn heavily on the research
of the late Father J.M. Berghs as well as his translations of
old French texts, provided to him by Ray Davies and others, and
published by Berghs in the Water Garden Journal from 1989 through
From Notes on the
Horticultural Establishment Latour-Marliac (a text written
by Latour-Marliac's successors): "An article on tropical
water lilies, published in 1858 in a horticultural review, specially
attracted Mr Bory Latour-Marliac's attention. After, for that
time, a rather well documented, study, the author goes into raptures
over the elegance and the rich colourings of those plants."
From a typed document, Biographical note on Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac,
Botanist - Officier d'Acadamie, found by Ray Davies among the
Latour-Marliac papers: "Aquatic plants did not particularly
hold his attention until one day in 1858 he read in a periodical
of the Paris Jardin
des Plantes, an article by Professor G Laveque, describing
the nymphaeas coerulia - capensis -scutifolia - zanzibarensis
- azurea and rosea, which recently had enriched the ponds of
the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle. The author enthused about the
rich colouring of their flowers and he regretted that those plants
could not be acclimatised in the waters of our regions."
No such article and no Professor Laveque have been found in
the literature. The reference to the supposed author may have
been to a nickname for Maurice Leveque de Vilmorin, who later
wrote about Latour-Marliac's work in Revue horticole.
It is clear from an article written by Latour-Marliac, "Notice
sur les Nymphaea et Nelumbium rustiques", first published
in the British horticultural periodical The Garden in 1887, that
his inspiration for attempting to hybridize waterlilies was Charles
Antoine Lemaire's article, "Nymphaea Devoniensis",
which appeared in the Belgian publication Le Jardin Fleuriste
Le Jardin Fleuriste
Gand, chez les éditeurs et E. Gyselynck, 1851-1854
Even though Latour-Marliac's essay wasn't published until
1887, it is entirely possible that he read the Lemaire article
far earlier, possibly even knew Lemaire, based on the present
tense used in this passage from the above mentioned article:
"At present the learned author of these lines, Mr Ch. Lemaire,
seems to be the happy owner, not only of a hothouse, but also
of a similar dazzling prospect. An important revolution has taken
place in the pretty aquatic plant world; the beautiful nymphs
of the warm climate have discarded their disdainful chilly sternness,
little compliant with their equatorial temperament; fertile alliances
have been concluded with our elegant hardy water lilies and have
given birth to multicoloured hybrids, gifted with an absolute
robustness that does not fear the bleak northwinds nor prolonged
stay under ice. And it should not be supposed that they are delicate
with respect to their culture, the nature of the soil, the quality
of the water, the kind of container, etc."
If Latour-Marliac read or knew Lemaire during that period,
when Lemaire was in Ghent, Belgium, and associated with Louis
Van Houtte, it is also quite possible that he read the article
by French botanist Jules Emile Planchon, 'Ortgiesiano-rubra',
published in Van Houtte's Flore des Serres et des jardins de
l'Europe, Volume 8, 1852-1853 (French
- English). This
carefully documented article detailed the procedure for successfully
cross-pollinating waterlilies. Latour-Marliac described the process
himself in a paper read before the Royal Horticultural Society
in 1898, extracts printed in The
Garden in 1899.
From Summer Near Water and
Marshes: "Joseph Bory Latour Marliac, inspired by Lemaire's
article, as we have seen, did not only specialize in the hybridisation
of water lilies. At the same time he was managing six family
estates in an area of 5km around Le Temple. His first hybridisation
of Nymphaeas were only made with a scientific aim and the commercial
establishment Latour Marliac was set up by him only a long time
later with a view to financing a bit of his research work."
The above quotation may be somewhat misleading. In an article
in The Garden, December 23, 1893,
Latour-Marliac wrote, "About the year 1879 I commenced the
work in earnest . . ." He proceeded to describe his early
efforts and results, including parentage of some hybrids. He
was in possession of N. flava (today N. mexicana)
which was the pollen parent for N. 'Marliacea Chromatella', N.
'Odorata Sulphurea' and N. 'Helvola'.
In Summer Near Water and
Marshes, we learn how Latour-Marliac obtained N. odorata
var. rubra to use in his hybridizing. "The famous
horticulturist Godefroy Leboeuf, from Argenteuil near Paris,
however, attracted his attention to a red Nymphaea, which was
then cultivated in Boston, USA. This horticulturist was so kind
as to have a plant of that famous Nymphaea sent from America
and this was the starting point of creating all the varieties,
obtained since then. This is what Mr Godefroy-Leboeuf then wrote
to M. Latour-Marliac:
'The Nymphaea odorata rubra is a plant that I received from
America through the intermediary of the doyen of American horticulturists,
Mr Hovey. He was here in 1878 and saw a flowering Nymphaea Caspary
(today N. alba
The Latour-Marliac Nursery was founded in 1875.
In Notes on the Horticultural
Establishment Latour-Marliac, we find this description: "The
Horticultural Establishment extends over 4 hectares near the
little Gascon village, Le Temple-sur-Lot, an ancient commandery
of the Order of the Temple. The area is slightly undulating with
a little stream winding through it. The water plants take up
920 ponds, made of bricks or reinforced concrete of 120 cm by
180 cm and 50 cm deep. The number of plants growing in them is
250,000 to 300,000."
var. rubra) at my place. He told
me that near Boston there was a variety with flowers of a such
more brilliant pink, that those flowers were sold at a dollar
apiece and that the monopoly was in the hands of one of his neighbours,
who had never been willing to sell the plant. Mr Hovey asserted
that on no account this neighbour would part with his goose that
lays the golden eggs. I urged him to try the deal and put a thousand
francs at his disposal. After a few months I received five or
six plants as my share and Mr Hovey kept the rest.'"
on the Horticultural Establishment Latour-Marliac: "Circa
1878, Godefroy-Leboeuf provided him with a plant of Odorata Rubra
or Rosacea of the Americans, a unique specimen in Europe at that
time. Van Nocett supplied him with Sphaerocarpa (today N.
alba var. rubra) and from Kew Gardens he got seeds
of tropical Nymphaeas.
< Latour-Marliac's garden, From The
Garden, February 9, 1901
Though we don't know exactly when Latour-Marliac hybridized
and selected N. 'Marliacea Chromatella', we do know that
he sent a plant of it to the Royal Gardens at Kew in 1887. (See
Canary Water Lily) By 1891,
he had introduced a number of new hybrids, described in Les Nymphaea
- English) by Maurice-L.
Vilmorin in Revue horticole.
Latour-Marliac's garden, From
The Garden, February 9, 1901 >
Nouveaux Nymphaea hybrides
Revue Horticole 1895
© photo Association Edouard André
In his paper Hardy Hybrid Water
Lilies (The Garden 1899), Latour-Marliac himself described
34 "quite distinct varieties" with the promise of more
to come. Today we attribute more than 110 cultivars to him, some
released after his death. Though some references have suggested
that he was secretive about his methods, there is much written
evidence to the contrary. He was quite open about his methods
and hoped to encourage others to undertake the hybridization
of waterlilies. It does seem that he and his successors were
careful to release only sterile hybrids. Some sources say this
was for commercial reasons, though he wrote in The
Garden in 1893 that at least one hybrid could not be sent
out as "its seedlings could not be relied upon to resemble
Latour-Marliac died January 26, 1911. From his obituary in The
Gardeners' Chronicle of March 1911: "It is with the deepest
regret that we record the decease of this noted French horticulturalist,
which took place a few weeks ago. Mr. Latour-Marliac's name will
ever be associated with the race of hybrid
Nymphaeas he raised. These hybrids are now the glory of our lakes
and ponds, adding a charm to the water scenery of the pleasure
ground, whilst even the smaller cultivators delight to grow them
in small tanks or tubs. In his nursery at Temple-sur-Lot in the
district of Lot-et-Garonne, M. Latour-Marliac worked at the hybridisation
of Nymphaeas for 40 years, and he persevered in his object for
a long time before any satisfactory results were apparent. During
the first 10 years he saw no decided result; then, when he had
raised one that gave signs of a decided break in colour, he was
most unfortunate in losing it. M. Latour-Marliac's varieties
were exceedingly numerous . . . In all of this work with the
genus Nymphaea he was ably and lovingly aided by Madame B. Latour-Marliac,
who survives him. He had attained his 80th year at the time of
his death. The business will be managed by his son . . ."
Bronze of Latour-Marliac at the Establishment
Berghs, Father J.M. Articles in Water Garden
Conard, Henry S. The
Waterlilies, A Monograph of the Genus Nymphaea, Chapter
VII. The Carnegie
Institution of Washington, 1905.
Latour-Marliac, J.B. HARDY
HYBRID WATER LILIES. THE GARDEN, March 18. 1899.
Extract from a paper read before the Royal Horticultural Society,
August 9, 1898.
Planchon, Jules Emile. 'Ortgiesiano-rubra',
Flore des Serres et des jardins de l'Europe, Volume 8, 1852-1853
(French - English)
Robinson, William. 1887, . Canary
Water Lily. THE GARDEN, July 23, 1887.
Robinson, William & Latour-Marliac, B.
The New Hardy Waterlilies.
The Garden, December 23, 1893
Vilmorin, Maurice-L. LES NYMPHAEA RUSTIQUES
- French (THE HARDY
WATERLILIES - English)
Revue horticole 1891
on the Horticultural Establishment Latour-Marliac, undated, translated by Father J.M. Berghs.
Obituary. B. Latour-Marliac. The Gardeners'
Chronicle, 1911, p.271
Water and Marshes, undated, translated
by Father J.M. Berghs.