This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Mr. Cora's success with the culture of this most gigantic of water lillies is one of the most satisfactory triumphs of American horticulture. An aquatic whose leaves measure 6 feet across, and that demands a pond under glass twenty or thirty feet across, the water in which must be kept perpetually warm and in motion, is not a plant which one person in a thousand would undertake the culture of, for the first time in the United States, and succeed. But Mr. Cope not only succeeded more perfectly last summer in growing and blooming the Victoria, in more magnificent proportions than it has ever been grown in the finest private establishments in England, but he has, to onr great surprise, succeeded in causing it to bloom superbly all through the winter. So far as we know, this has never been accomplished before, and to the fortunate conjunction of skill displayed at Springdale, and the abundance of light on this side of the Atlantic, the development of this new and most valuable characteristic must be attributed.
We commend the following interesting account of the culture at Springdale, by Mr. Meehan, to the attention of our readers - who will not fail to notice also the liberal offer of the popular ex-president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Ed.
Dear SIR - The interest which characterised the flowering of the Victoria in this country, continues unabated. The success which has crowned the efforts of Mr. Cops, and the abundant reward which the plant and its flowers, afford its beholders, are inducing others to attempt its cultivation. It has occurred to me that a few notes on its progress here to the present time, would be interesting, as well as seasonable. ' It would not be extravagant to call the beauties of this plant unsurpassable. Like the gigantic idea, its leaf-structure originated - the Crystal Palace - it stands among its class alone and unapproachable. Its flower has been compared to a colossal specimen of the night blooming Cereus, ( Cereus grandiftora.) In certain respects this comparison is just; as in the general appearance of the flower, and its delightful fragrance. But when we proceed to examine each beauty separately, all comparison with any other flower must cease. It is not possible to select one property more than another, the which most to admire. It is everything to be wished for. A Victoria house is a perpetual conservatory, filled with ever-blooming flowers. Since its first flowering, in August, last, this plant has produced on an average, two flowers a week.
Up to April first, there have been 58 flowers on the same plant. Nor is this ever-blooming principle one long routine of wearisome monotony, for no two flowers can be said to be exactly alike. At the appearance of every bud there is something to anticipate - some new beauty, as yet unknown, to excite our curiosity, and raise up expectation. When they expand in the evening, they may be of any shade, varying from the purest white to richest cream, till they close in the morning, as if to exhibit the change in their calyx, from a greenish to a crimson hue. Soon after the flower expands a second time, and exhibits the same flower quite metamorphosed - sometimes of the deepest pink - sometimes rich with crimson - and sometimes feathered with crimson and white, as if in playful mimickry of the delicate markings of a prize tu-Bp. It is a strange flower - so grand, yet so accommodating! Promise a flower to a friend; he comes; the bud is only there. He is much disappointed. The occasion was an especial one - a marriage festival, perhaps, not perfect without the presidency of this queen of flowers. He shall at any rate have the bud. It is cut and placed in a box, with a little warm damp moss and a heated brick, and the top covered over.
He reaches home, and the box is opened, and a perfectly formed flower lies exposed to view! What can be more magical? Verily, nature in the Victoria, throws the tricks of Monsieur Hebert, described in your last, far into the shade.
Nor does this ever-blooming, ever-changing property, alone render it so admirable. The one? of its expanding buds, is in itself a treasure. A whole house crowded with blooming Oles fragrans, would not excel one bursting Lilly flower.
In a physiological point of view, the flower is no less interesting. Few plants better show the influence which light has on vegetation. When the plant here was in the most advantageous conditions in this respect, last fall, the leaves averaged about six feet in diameter. About six 'weeks ago they seemed to bare declined to their minimum size - being then three feet eight inches. Now, as the light increases, the leaves exceed four feet. "When there is abundance of light the leaves turn up at the edges - in winter they lose this peculiarity - they now seem to be resuming it.
Our plant delights in a water temperature of 85° - below 80° or above 90°, an injurious effect is, at this season, perceptible.
I am informed that in England, they durst not keep the water temperature higher in winter than 60° or 65°. This must be owing to the short supply of light to an English winter. So far, I think, we beat the English cultivators in Victoria growing, - however, in the peaceful competition of horticulture, John Bull will be glad to learn that his brother Jonathan has gone ahead a second time on the water. Our plant ripens its seed perfectly, even in the midst of winter. The seed germinate readily under the same treatment as that given to the parent plant. Plants frequently come up in our tank from self sown seed. One of these, not four months old, recently bloomed in a box six inches deep, eight inches wide, and ten inches long - the box being plunged in the large tank. The leaves were two feet in diameter, and the flower seven inches across. This plant was growing near the water wheel, which may yet be found more useful than some are disposed to admit.
Skillful treatment may overcome the difficulties apparent in out door summer cultivation. I do not consider a very high temperature essential, - but, whatever temperature it will grow in, must be maintained with regularity. It will evidently flower and grow in a small space; but to realize the full effect of its majestic beauty, good room must be afforded.
Is the plant an annual or a perennial? This has not yet been definitely settled. I should not be surprised to learn that it is one of those plants which are annual in some countries and climates, biennial in others, and yet still in others perennial - one of the same class as the Ricinus communis for instance. In England they incline to set it down as a perennial. Our light and climate may advance it more speedily to maturity. An English winter, though it deprives the grower of flowers, may in consequence add to its longevity, and, although it is being classed amongst perennials, only lengthen out for a few months its biennial existence. But all these things have yet to be known.
Mr. Cope has kindly permitted me to state that he will be happy to supply any one forming a tank for the Victoria with a plant for it, - and I should be pleased to give any desired information to those desiring it, as well as to record any future observations in the pages of the Horticulturist, should the editor encourage them.
Thomas S. Meehan.
Holmsburgh,Pe., April 4th, 1852