This section is from the book "Handbook Of Hardy Trees, Shrubs, And Herbaceous Plants", by W. Botting Hemsley. Also available from Amazon: Handbook of hardy trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants.
The principal object of the compiler of this volume is to furnish something between a mere dictionary of names and a scientific treatise containing nothing beyond technical descrip-. tions of plants. No attempt has been made to treat the subject in a popular, gossiping style, for this would involve considerable discursiveness, and consequent additional bulk, without enhancing the usefulness of the work; but only those technical terms in general use, and familiar to almost everybody engaged amongst plants, have been employed. It is, in fact, impossible to describe plants, or any series of objects presenting slight modifications of the same characters, without using special terms of a certain and defined signification. To obviate any difficulty that might arise from ignorance on this point, and to have the explanations at hand, a concise glossary is given of those words which do not carry their meaning with them. But the most superficial knowledge of Systematic Botany will be sufficient to render all the information this work contains intelligible, and only those who have some idea of the subject are likely to consult it. Although considerable space is devoted to Practical Gardening, greater prominence has been given to descriptive garden Botany, because it is believed that this branch of horticultural literature is still far behind all others. It is not supposed that the present work will at once supply the deficiency aimed at, as it is necessarily very imperfect; but as the first of its kind it may serve to smoothe the way for a more elaborate one, and be the means of clearing up some of the errors generally current, as well as leading to the discovery of others. The arrangement of the technical portion according to the natural system appears to be justified by the fact that; almost every young gardener, at least, has some knowledge of it. Another reason for adopting it in preference to alphabetical order or any arbitrary grouping is, that a knowledge of it is desirable, and will serve to increase the pleasure to be derived from the cultivation of plants. The actual arrangement of the orders and genera is a modification of De Can-dolle's system, as near as possible to that in use at Kew, as published in Hooker and Bentham's 'Genera Plantarum.' Any one acquainted with the affinities of plants will soon be able to turn to the various orders without consulting the index, which for convenience has been made as complete as possible, including the Latin names of all the species described or mentioned, together with their more important synonyms, as well as the popular English and American names.
To facilitate the selection of species, lists and references to the principal members of the different classes are given under the head 'Classification of Plants according to their Duration, Habit, etc.,'pp. 599-619.
It was originally intended to translate certain portions of the first, second, and third volumes of Decaisne and Naudin's 'Manuel de I'Amateur des Jardins,' and make up a volume from them. But this plan was abandoned at the outset, as the arrangement, suitable perhaps for a work of several volumes, could not be carried out in bringing the materials within the limits of one. And then, except in the case of a few genera and species so well known as to scarcely need description, distinguishing generic and specific characters are not given in the French work. This being considered of the first importance, it was decided, whilst using the original woodcuts, and all the information available, to proceed on a totally different basis. A great many of the species mentioned therein are not noticed here, on account of their not being hardy in Britain. On the other hand, numerous additional species are described or named; and although nothing like a complete enumeration of all the hardy plants found in British gardens, very few desirable or common species have been overlooked. Probably some persons may be disappointed at not finding such and such a species mentioned, whilst other less meritorious species are admitted. Imperfections of this nature are already apparent; but a line must be drawn somewhere, and in the choice of species one is naturally influenced to a certain extent by one's own knowledge and predilections. Under each order, several of the showiest or commonest of its members found wild in Britain are described or noticed. Exceedingly common plants are not technically described, for the simple reason that it is wholly unnecessary; but any interesting facts, such as date of introduction, native country, and other details respecting the changes years of cultivation have effected in well-known plants, like the Dahlia and Aster, are briefly noticed. Very rare plants, and especially those species requiring considerable skill and experience to grow them successfully, are usually mentioned without description. In those instances where there are several often closely allied species of the same genus in cultivation, the peculiar characteristics of each species are as much as possible inserted in the descriptions. It frequently happens that the genus of a plant is well known, but from the similarity of species, or some other cause, its specific identity is not so easily remembered, and hence the value of a book of reference containing the information sought. Plants vary so much under cultivation that, without trustworthy evidence respecting their descent from certain wild types, they would often be considered as specifically distinct from their progenitors; and therefore all descriptions must be accepted subject to the changes a plant is likely to undergo under artificial conditions. To overcome this difficulty as much as possible, the characters of the cultivated plant are given or allusion made to the changes effected by long culture.
The information given under each species is culled from various sources, as it was not practicable to have all the species in a fresh state at the right moment; but only the most trustworthy authorities have been consulted. It should be mentioned here, that although free use has been made of the French work, even to the extent of translating some paragraphs in their entirety, Messrs. Decaisne and Naudin are in no way responsible for the alterations in nomenclature, limitation of species, or any other changes that have been introduced. Naturally, we might expect to find some errors in sifting a work of this description, and equally as a matter of course, whilst correcting them, we have committed others. As nothing is more difficult than to discover our own mistakes, the compiler would feel obliged to anybody for corrections, and for suggestions respecting additional information. The nomenclature of the Coniferae is perhaps the least satisfactory, on account of the difficulty experienced in identifying the cultivated forms with their wild parents. So many of them appear, even in a natural state, under two or more very different forms; and in the case of dioecious species the determinations frequently admit of great doubts regarding their accuracy. These doubts cannot be cleared up in the absence of cones or adult development. But, after all, the correct original name is not of so much importance to the cultivator as the value of the plant in question for useful or ornamental purposes, though it is desirable to know what is meant by a certain name, and whether this name be restricted to one form, or, as is too often the case, applied to several distinct things. It may be objected that there is a want of uniformity in the present work, and that too much prominence is accorded to some genera, whilst others, whose species are equally difficult of discrimination, are treated less in detail. Doubtless this is true, and it can only be pleaded in extenuation that the desire to keep within the limits of a handy volume was the only influence that impelled us to this course. The selection may not be in every instance the best, but it is thought that details respecting the history of 'florist's flowers,' like the Aster, Dahlia, and Rose, and descriptions of all the species in cultivation belonging to a genus like Lilium, will be more acceptable than a complete description of the rarer plants in cultivation. As a rule, those who make large collections are botanists, possessing a more or less extensive botanical library. This work being intended for amateurs and gardeners of limited scientific attainments, everything has been simplified so far as is consistent with perspicuity. In nearly all cases information respecting the structure of the ovary, and the position, number, and form of the ovules in different orders has been omitted, the mature seed-vessel, or fruit, and its contents alone being described. For the use of those unacquainted with Greek and
Latin, the derivation of the generic names is given, as a knowledge of the signification of a name materially assists in impressing it on the mind, or recalling it on seeing the plant to which it has been given. The specific names of frequent occurrence, with their meanings, are included in the glossary of terms. The relative size of the woodcuts to the plants they represent is approximatively given, in order to enable the reader to form a better judgment.
The Second Part, devoted to Practical Grardening, calls for no special remark, further than to say that it was not written for the guidance of those advanced in the art of cultivating and arranging plants, and laying out a garden.
A companion volume, devoted to Greenhouse and Hothouse Plants, is contemplated, should this meet with sufficient favour to justify the belief that such a work is needed.
In conclusion, my best thanks are due to Professor Oliver and Dr. Masters, who have materially assisted and advised me; but I more especially wish to record my obligations to Mr. J. G. Baker, F.L.S., who kindly checked all the proofs as they issued from the press, thereby correcting many important errors which, in the absence of an adequate library, I should not have detected; and also kindly permitted the use of his researches in the petaloid Monocotyledonous plants.