Revue horticole 1891


by Maurice-L. Vilmorin

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A half-dozen* species of shrubs, trees and plants provide our gardens with flowers, most richly endowed with brightness, dimensions and color. Magnolias, Peonies, Roses, Poppies, Tulips and Lilies, and finally Water lilies, compete in the magnificence and doubleness of their flowers. Of these superb flowers, shall we rank one first, one second and one last? God forbid, that would be childish; let us only say that water lilies or Nymphaeas have long reigned unrivalled as, by way of an almost unique exception, those magnificent plants in their original state, are naturally double in the Old as well as in the New World, and that there have always been inexhaustible supplies of them in lakes and rivers.

With species of plants that are left to themselves, double flowering only occurs accidentally and abnornally as an exception to laws of nature. This rather strange phenomenon can only be explained with very special considerations, but that would lead us too far from our subject.

However perfect they may be, the wild Nymphaeas on the whole still present noticeable differences in their dimensions and in the purity or the uniformity of their coloring. Some subjects may spontaneously show considerable variations. It seldom happens and that is understandable as the conditions of habitat are more uniform for water lilies than for other plants. Nevertheless it sometimes does occur and a score of years ago, two superb varieties, one found in Europe and the other one in America, have come to add a completely new interest to the growing of Nymphaeas by providing the ponds with two very hardy, beautifully pink water lilies. About the same time in Florida a species with yellow flowers was discovered or rather re-discovered, and added a new coloring to those of the temperate climate; these new elements made it possible to renew and enrich the beauty of ponds, and also to try hybridizations full of interest and rich in promises of new success. We know that this hope has not been in vain. The visitors to the World Fair at the Trocadero have been able to admire the splendid collections of nym phaeas, exhibited by Messrs. Latour-Marliac, Lagrange, Croux, Armand Gontier, etc. and to get an idea of the current richness of this beautiful genus.

I will not undertake making a full description of the old species and the new varieties that can be grown in the open; I will limit myself to a summary description of the best of them; my experience going back a long way will allow me to give details on growing them and on their mode of vegetation, which I hope will interest amateurs; may these be numerous and attract new ones in turn!

Simple notes need no plan of a methodical exposition; still I will divide them into three parts: a review of the species and their spontaneous varietiations, a description of the horticultural varieties obtained from seedlings, and suggestions for their general cultivation.

The white water lily (Nymphaea alba). This beautiful plant is too well known to insist on its description; besides it will often return in these notes, because it will be useful as comparison with other species.

Flowering begins early, towards the end of April, and holds the whole summer with an average abundance; it is more beautiful and fuller when it grows in four or even five feet deep water. The large rhizome ramifies rather abundantly and multiplication by divisionis easy. The plant seeds rather well and seedlings are obtainable. It thrives in a pool with a foot of soil on its bottom and moderately in a basket.

Variety plenissima. - This variety has more petals than the type, i.e. about fifty, whereas the common water lily has only twenty eight or thirty petals and no anthers. Same cultivation.

Variety maxima. - Very large flowers, a variety of Macedonian origin. I only know it by description.

Variety minor. - A smaller flower than the type, but equally double and well shaped. The smaller size is only of minor importance.

N. Caspary, Carr. (N. sphaerocarpa), the Swedish pink waterlily. - For the description we refer to the articles published in here at the appearance of this superb species or variety, said by some authors to be connected with N. alba, but most certainly differing from it in its vegetative characteristics.

About the exact place of its origin we only know what the introducer chose to communicate to the public; the earliness of its vegetation however seems to confirm the assumption of a Northern origin. The plant flowers before all other Nymphaeas and is satisfied with a


Nymphaea alba (sphaerocarpa) rubra Casp. Flora Danica Suppl. 3, Tab. 141. 1874.
Image from Flora Danica Online

much lower degree of temperature of the water to produce its most beautiful flowers. It seeks deep, pure, cool water. Its flowering is in its full splendour towards the second fortnight of May. Its flowers reach a size a little less than those of N. alba, but they are wider open. The deep pink carmine color, which characterizes the 4 or 8 inner petals spreads at that time to nearly all of them, but leaves the outer ones a little paler. This splendour of flowering however foretells it is nearing its end, especially if the season is hot and if the aquarium does not receive running water. Under these conditions, the last flowers appear in the middle of June.

The rootstock is very thick and lengthens rather slowly. It is not quite true to say that it never produces side buds and so cannot be multiplied by rootstock sections, but these buds are extremely rare. In twelve years a very strong rootstock has only given me two.

Nymphaea Caspary is the one that seeds best of all, as the absence of suckers seems to imply; several times I have been able to send perfectly ripe seeds to aquatic plant growers. Perhaps seedlings will produce varieties with even more beautiful coloring.

N. pygmaea of China. - I cultivated some for a few years, then lost a few plants, which I have not replaced. So I must be careful when giving advice on growing them.

A native to a very hot summer climate, this plant thrives in a pool or lily pond, where the water gets very warm.

This pretty little plant has only 4 white petals, well delineated, apart from the sepals and the broadened stamens. The flowers hardly reach 4 centimeters in diameter. It has often been described.

N. tuberosa. - Originating in Lake Superior and the north of the United States, this Nymphaea is very hardy, very beautiful and very floriferous. Its natural habitat is very restricted and that is perhaps why it is so little known. It flowers from the end of April onwards, as early as the Nymphaea alba. Its flower is also large, equally full and more widely open with firmer and broader petals; whereas those of the alba are rarely broader than 2 centimeters, those of the tuberosa are 3 ½ or 4 centimeters width. The inner ones, which narrow to broadened stamens, are beautiful bright golden yellow instead of a pale yellow. The flowers follow one another all through the season in greater abundance than those of N. alba.

The rootstock is very curious; it is not a lengthened and ramified body, but forms a massive aggregate with very numerous buds, clustered and not very distinct, forming a strong fleshy mass which can grow up to one foot in diameter. Nevertheless dividing is rather easy. I have multiplied this species a good deal, without the mother plant suffering from these amputations.

This Nymphaea does very well in depth varying from 2 to 6 feet of water; the very abundant leaves, which are crowded together by their numbers and the proximity of the shoots, are half raised from the water. The flowers are nearly always held 5 to 10 centimeters above the water. As with N. alba, the reverse of the outer petals is sometimes washed with a little pink, the sepals are a clearer green. I have not seen them fructifying at home, but they are likely to do so and the seeds to ripen easily.

N. odorata, Aiton. - The water lily of the United States. This species is very abundant in all still and slow moving waters of the US. It has an almost pleasant scent in comparison with the insipid and moreover very faint scent of all the preceding species.

Nymphaea odorata only starts to flower in June and when the water has warmed up rather well; it is completely hardy and flowers abundantly and continually; the most beautiful flowering period is the middle of the summer. The rootstocks are relatively thin; they branch continuously; multiplying with pieces of rootstock is easy and very prompt. I have vainly sought fertile seeds on the plants that I grow either in ponds or in open pools.

 N. odorata with pink flowers. - Plants with pinkish flowers had been known for a long time, and Meehan, in his book Native Flowers And Ferns had a colored plate of one published, when by a stroke of good luck a few plants of a very beautiful pure pink coloring were discovered in a marsh located near Cape Cod in the vicinity of Boston and at the southeast end of the State of Massachusetts. So it is that this plant, when in American horticultural literature, is spoken of as the Cape Cod Nymphaea.

The coloring of this beautiful variety differs noticeably from that of Caspary; it is a purer pink color, without a mixture of lilac or shaded with carmine; all the petals are the same hue, which is deeper at the bottom, a little lighter at the top, inside as well as outside, which gives them a slightly shaded and glossed coloring. The f lower opens well; the plant is adaptable to all depths of ponds and pools. I have seen it this year in a very good flowering condition in a pond where the drought had reduced the water depth to 20 centimeters.

In addition to its use outdoors, this plant is grown in greenhouses by Boston florists, who in the winter sell the flowers that are continuously


Nymphaea odorata
Meehan's The Native Flowers and Ferns
of the United States

Series Two Volume1,
1880 - 1881
Image from Shigitatsu

produced. A simple tub with a bit of soil and water are sufficient for its cultivation.

The hardiness, the rapid multiplication of this Nymphaea, which flowers all through the summer until October, should be sufficient reason to make it grow in all gardens with an ornamental pond or pool. 

 N. flava, Audubon. - A plate by this famous American naturalist, representing a bird of Florida, had long intrigued botanists, for there was also a water plant in it with a double lemon-yellow flower, which could only represent a Nymphaea. This plant had never been seen and yet Audubon was known for his conscientious accuracy, when, about fifteen years ago, the plant was discovered near the Saint?John's River in Florida. Taken to the Northern States, and then to Europe, it proved to be hardier than could have been supposed on the grounds of its southern origin.

Whistling Swan
(with Nymphaea mexicana)
Audubon Birds of America 1838
Image from
Accompanying text

This plant has clear-cut characteristics: it is not quite rhizomatous, but sends out, starting from a mother plant with fibrous roots together with short and bulging ones, rather long runners that will take roots further on, like strawberries, and form a new group of roots, leaves and flowers, in a word, new distinct plants. The leaves are relatively small, oval, slightly acuminate, clearly dentate, dark green, mottled with brown red (on the upper side) and purplish red below; they cover the water surface over a small, uninterrupted area; the f lowers are average-sized or 10 centimeters in diameter, with many broad petals that are at the most 1 ½ centimeters at the base, pointed at the top. This plant needs full soil and does not seem to do well in small pools. At least I have not made a success of it in an aquarium with soil on the bottom; the plant must gradually be immersed up to approximately 2 feet and it would be safer perhaps to keep a few plants in the greenhouse. All things considered, it is not a species of very easy cultivation and we think that the new hybrids with yellow flowers will be preferable for ornamental ponds.

The varieties, the names of which now follow, are the result of seedlings of the well known specialist Mr. Latour-Marliac, from Temple-sur-Lot. That skillful horticulturalist, in our opinion, has discovered a fertile way by subordinating the search of new Nelumbium varieties, which can only interest part of the French territory, where the seedlings of Nymphaea are much hardier, easy to grow, and whose newly introduced varieties and species have added many elements to the crossing experiments.

Are the obtained varieties hybrids? From which cross did they result? That is the secret of the hybridizer, and if it suits him to keep it to himself, no one can deny .him that right. Several times I have heard the achievement of certain of Mr. Latour-Marliac's new varieties being attributed to simple variations of seedlings that were only the result of a species, drifted away from its natural habitat. I cannot accept this assumption, because several plants appear to me to combine characteristics of roots, leaves, flowers and vegetation common to two distinct species. I think the hybridizer made voluntary, perfectly considered and judicious crosses. For certain plants, the filiation seems rather easy to discover, but let us not forget that the search of paternity is always forbidden and let us pass on to the list of names.

Nymphaea Marliacea Chromatella. - This superb variety is one of the most remarkable of the series. Its rootstocks are rather large and its abundant leaves are purple red underneath; the very large, wide open flower, with broad, sulphur yellow petals and golden yellow stamens can be 15 centimeters in diameter and it floats. The very large leaves however clear the water surface to let the flowers float freely.

The flowering begins in June and continues rather abundantly throughout the summer.

N. Marliacea carnea. - N. Marliacea rosea. - These two plants have the largest flowers of the whole series; they reach up to 18 centimeters and are paler in the first than in the second, as their names sufficiently show. The Marliacea albida, with very white flowers, shorter inner petals and a bright yellow center, is a superb variety.

N. odorata rosacea. - Very abundant leaves, of average size; large soft pink flowers, abundant flowering.

N. odorata exquisita. - Splendid new variety, fuller in all its parts than the standard N.odorata; the flower color is of an even deeper pink; the reverse of the leaves has an even more marked crimson color. It will be one of the most beautiful plants of the hybrid series.

 N. odorata sulfurea. - We remind the reader here of this superb plant, of which we gave a description and a colored plate in Revue horticole (See Revue horticole of 1890, page 540): it has very abundant leaves, green, marbled with crimson on top, marbled dull red with bright red below; very large and very double sulphur yellow flowers with many narrow petals that are well displayed and even curve toward the peduncle so as to make an almost globular flower. All these hybrids are in general plants of large dimensions, especially those of the Marliacea series; they grow well in deep water, but do not need such depth as N. alba and Caspary prefer; they will probably also like water that gets warmer. They are endowed with pleasant perfumes, especially the odorata sulphurea and N. Helvola, a dwarf plant with the characteristics of N. pygmaea, except for its yellow flowers and the red marblings of the foliage.

This series, already so remarkable for its hybrids, will certainly be increased each year with new plants, as the seedlings of Mr. Latour-Marliac or his imitators grow up and show their flowers. It is not from the first year of flowering however, that the merits of a variety can be judged completely; with all its other qualities, a Nymphaea should also be easy to multiply if it is to have a horticultural future.

1. Nymphaea odorata sulfurea
2. Eichhornia azurea
Revue Horticole1890
Image from Shigitatsu

Some remarkable seedlings are sometimes incapable of developing side buds. Thus they remain in the state of almost single specimens. Such is the case of the beautiful Nymphaea Laydekeri with its carmine flowers and orange anthers and stamens, which produces an inexhaustible abundance of peach scented flowers. This variety, which only lacks the merit of producing side shoots, will become, we hope, a precious seed?bearer in the hands of the hybridizer**.

Culture of Nymphaea. - Available only in French.

Maurice-L. de Vilmorin

* See Revue horticole, 1882, p. 108, fig. 35; 1888, p. 372.

**This expectation has been realized and N. Marliacea Rubra Punctata will be issued in the near future. It results from Laydekeri, but the latter was the male parent.

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