[From a Greek word signifying flame. The plant so named by the ancients is supposed to have been a Lychnis.]
"Your voiceless lips, O flowers, are living preachers, - Each cup a pulpit, and each leaf a book, Supplying to my fancy numerous teachers, From lowliest nook ! "
The genus is North American only, and is one of the handsomest in cultivation. It comprises most elegant border-flowers, valuable for blooming from the first of May to November, with an endless variety of colors. What adds much to their value, is, that they are perfectly hardy, requiring little or no protection in the winter, and are easy to propagate. The only fault they have is that of spreading too rapidly. The genus gives us both annual and perennial species; the perennials are vernal, early summer and autumnal blooming.
This is found from New York, to Michigan, southward. A British collector exclaimed on seeing a patch of this species in one of the pine barrens of New Jersey, "the beauty of that alone is worth coming to America to see, it is so splendid." Most of the species delight in a rich sandy loam. When the plants become large, they ought to be divided and planted in fresh ground. There are varieties of P. subulata with pink, purple, white, and rosy-eyed flowers. The plant is very dwarf, and has a solid mass of mossy, bristly, evergreen foliage, sending up innumerable bunches of its delicate flowers, completely covering the whole. P. nivalis, is a beautiful variety of this, formerly in my collection, but now lost, and I have not been able to obtain it from any nursery in the country; the foliage is shining deep-green, more bristly; the flowers are pure white with yellow eye, and I think it is more tender than the other.
P. reptans, sometimes called P. stolonifera, is a beautiful dwarf species, running upon the ground like those just described, sending up innumerable clusters of deep-crimson flowers, blooming in May; the flowers are nearly as large as in the late flowering species. The leaves are oval and not so abundant as those of P. subulata.
From this species (and probably P. paniculata, and others also), have been produced a great number of fine varieties known in the gardens under the term Perennial Phloxes. They are divided into two classes, early and late. These were fully described in a communication to the chairman of the Flower Committee of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society a few years ago, from which I present the following extracts:-
Early Phloxes. - These commence flowering about the first week in June; the different varieties successively coming into bloom to the middle of July, and continue in bloom, more or less profusely, until October, particularly when the flower-stems are cut down to the ground as the trusses or spikes of flowers begin to fade. This class of Phloxes range in height from one and one-half to three feet, according to the richness of the soil; some few varieties are rather more dwarfish in their habits. The early sorts all differ in their foliage from the later. The leaves are generally glossy, with a smooth surface, and mostly oblong-lance shape, sometimes with a heart-shaped base." Among the varieties of this class are Madame Duboulet, pink;
Henry Dierval, purple; Rival, white; Hoi Leopold, white, striped with rose, etc., etc.
The earlier varieties of the late Summer Phlox commence flowering about the middle of July, and from that time to the first of September the different sorts succeed each other. The period of bloom of each variety is about six weeks, and the panicle is in perfection in about a fortnight from the time the flowers begin to expand. Some varieties continue to bloom as late as the first of November; the flowers lose their brilliancy after heavy frosts. Thus, with a collection of vernal, early and late Summer Phloxes, there will be a continuous display in the flower-garden for more than six months."
The varieties in this class are numbered by hundreds, and new ones are added each year by our own and foreign florists. Among the author's named seedlings are "America, rose with pink eye; Mrs. Webster, large white flower, with small eye; Mont Blanc, pure white. For the others we must refer to the florists catalogues.
"The Phlox flourishes with very little care in almost any soil, succeeding better, however, in a deep rich, rather moist soil.
"The best time for dividing the roots, for new plantations, is about the first of August. The old stools should then be taken up, the flower-stems cut down to one foot, allowing the leaves that are attached to them to remain; separating the roots, making a plant of each stem, with portions of the root connected. These pieces of roots should be planted in highly manured and deeply dug soil. They will acquire strength during the fall, and flower better than the large stools the following season.
"Choice varieties are propagated from cuttings taken off in June or July, and make fine plants the next season."
This beautiful species was first raised at the Botanical garden, Manchester, England, from seeds which were received from the late Mr. Drummond, in 1835, and was named by Dr. Hooker after its indefatigable discoverer as a tribute of respect to him It was then considered doubtful whether it would prove an annual or perennial, and the writer who first described it, says:- "Should this lovely species turn out to be an annual, which to all appearance it will, it must be regarded as a novel feature in this favorite genus. The plant is perfectly hardy, and will prove a great ornament to the flower-garden." This we have found to be true, and wonder how the old gardeners could get along without this splendid flower,which if beautiful as it was first described by the person who received the seeds from its native locality in Texas, how much more so in its improved state, with its varieties of brilliant crimson, scarlet, purple, white, and variegated flowers. "The plant is about one foot high, covered with long hairs. Corolla salver-shaped, tube long, very hairy, pale-rose colored; limb spreading, pale-rose colored without, rich rosy-red within; eye, deep crimson; throat, yellow." This is the original description of it when first received,' but it has since sported into a great variety of colors. It is propagated from seeds, which, if sown in a hot-bed in March and planted out in June, will flower profusely from the first of July to November For masses of separate colors it is not surpassed by any other bedding-plant. The plants should be placed six inches apart each way, to make a solid mass of bloom. Plants from seed sown late in autumn, will be a fortnight in advance of those sown in the open ground in May. It will flourish best in a rich, but rather light soil.