The Antirrhinum (Snapdragons) attained to the dignity of a florist's flower last century, and many named varieties at one time existed which were all propagated by cuttings. Perhaps the most noted named Antirrhinum that ever existed was Hendersonii, sent out by Henderson & Son, London, in 1851. It was a well-formed white ground flower slightly shaded at the mouth with yellow and beautifully edged all round with rosy red.
Antirrhinums (Snapdragons) can still be propagated by cuttings, but the practice has fallen into disuse, the reason being that strains of different colours and heights have been so perfected that they breed almost true from seed.
When cuttings are put in it is usually those taken from some specially fine or distinct plant which it is desirable to form the basis of a seed selection with. It is undoubtedly the work of the seed expert in the direction just indicated, which is largely responsible for the extended culture and great popularity of the Antirrhinum at the present time. One other influence also must be recognised. In our great public parks, and notably in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the Antirrhinum has in recent years been used in a masterly way. Glorious long continued effects have been obtained by the use of this simple, easily cultivated plant. In America, the Antirrhinum has attained a popularity as a cut flower for market, etc., that it has never obtained in Britain, but its day may possibly come here also. In America, special strains are grown and selected for under-glass culture. The same could be done in Britain if there was a demand for them. It is only within the last few years that Antirrhinums have been well shown in London, and my own firm has led the way, obtaining a gold medal from the Royal Horticultural Society for a very fine group in 1914. Those who know the standard of the Royal Horticultural Society will at once realize that a group of cut snapdragons must have been exceptionally good to obtain the highest award of that distinguished Society.
The Royal Horticultural Society has carried out several trials of Antirrhinums in their gardens at Wisley. One in 1913 was an exceedingly large and fine trial, over two hundred stocks being grown. The seeds were sown on March 13th, and when seedlings were large enough to handle they were pricked out into boxes, and according to the official report "later on planted out in an open, sunny situation, on soil moderately manured, and planted in rows eighteen inches apart each way. All made excellent growth, flowered profusely through the summer and autumn, and gave a glorious mass of colour, which was much admired by visitors."
Antirrhinums (Snapdragons) have hitherto, and are still, classified according to their heights and colours. As to height - it has been the practice to speak of them as tall, nanum and dwarf or Tom Thumb. I was to some extent responsible for getting the term "nanum" discarded by the Royal Horticultural Society, and the following decision was recorded, "The Floral Committee recommended that the Antirrhinum should be classed as Tall, Medium and Dwarf (or Tom Thumb). It was considered that the term 'nanum' often used for the medium section was misleading." Messrs. Sutton adopt the term "Intermediate," which is excellent - better even than "Medium," and I hope to see it generally adopted.
The heights of the different sections vary somewhat on different soils and in different situations, but for the tall section thirty to thirty-six inches is about right; for the medium section, eighteen to twenty-four inches, and for the dwarf or Tom Thumb section, nine to twelve inches. These heights are taken to the top of the average of the flower spikes. The medium section is the most useful one, and embraces the widest colour range. The tall section is the one to which the florists' varieties belonged, and hence up till now has furnished the best formed individual flowers and, as was to be expected, the longest spikes. To this section belongs the famous strains of Striped Antirrhinums so popular with amateurs in the north of England and in Scotland. In a great show like that of Glasgow, twenty to thirty stands of these striped flowers are often seen, many of the spikes carrying twenty or more perfectly formed and beautifully marked flowers. To the close observer it is interesting to study the great variations in Antirrhinum foliage. As a youngster I was taught to select those plants which had the most beautifully marked, speckled and spotted bottom leaves, as they were the most likely to give the most beautifully speckled and striped flowers. In growing batches of seedlings for bedding, it is always wise at planting-out time to throw away those plants which are not true to type in foliage. Seed growers who attempt to grow Antirrhinum seed in separate colours find they must isolate the different varieties, i.e., grow them a long way apart from each other, or the stocks would get hopelessly mixed by bees, which are very fond of visiting Antirrhinums. Who has not seen the big bee clinging to the under lip of the flowers and pushing for all he is worth till he gets his head right into the mouth of the flower, then two-thirds of his entire body disappears into the cavity, to be withdrawn backwards covered with pollen. It is pointed out by Muller that the fast closure of the mouth of the Antirrhinum flower is most useful to the plant. Were it otherwise, small bees and other insects would enter the flower and use up the honey, thus withdrawing the attraction which brought about the visits of the larger bees which alone are useful in the accomplishment of cross-fertilization. These smaller bees are not however always done out of a share of the nectar, because they often bore small round holes at the base of the flower and get access to it in this way. If the visits of bees can be prevented, the flowers at the base of the spike remain longer in condition, and thus a longer-spike of bloom is obtained for exhibition purposes. The amateurs in the west of Scotland achieve this by placing an oblong box over the spike, sometimes with a glass front half of the way down, and this prevents bees visiting the flowers. In this connection an interesting scientific fact emerges. Bees visiting spikes of Antirrhinums begin at the bottom flower and work upwards. Transferring their attention to the next spike they carry on their back masses of pollen from the topmost flower of the spike last visited to the bottom flower of the next one, and this pollen is exactly in position to come in contact with the stigma. This brings about cross-fertilization very effectively in many cases; even if the stigma has recently been selfed, the pollen brought by the bee from another plant is likely to be pre potent. I find the anthers and stigma of the Antirrhinum mature simultaneously.
It is the duty of every up-to-date seedsman and nurseryman to observe the signs of the times in the horticultural world, and if possible endeavour to anticipate floral fashions and fancies. The history of many flowers - their rise to heights of popularity and their decline again - reads like romance. The Antirrhinum is undoubtedly on the up-grade at present. It is never likely to cause a furore like the Sweet Pea, but its great usefulness is certain to become more and more appreciated.
"Beauties that from worth arise,
Are like the grace of deities."