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.
This singular flower, (of which our frontispiece is a faithful representation, drawn (one-third size) from nature by Mrs. Stirrup,) is the Peruteria data of botanists. It belongs to the class Gynandria, and order Monandria, of Linnaeus; and the order Orchidaceae, sub-division Vandeae, of the natural arrangement of botany.
Generic characters, Peristeria. Perianth globose, sepals somewhat connate with the base of labellum. Petals smaller than the sepals. Labellum erect, articulated in the middle. Column erect, semiterate, dilated at the i base. Anther crestless, two-celled. Pollen masses two, cleft behind. Gland sessile, naked, involving the beak.
Specific characters, p.elata. Scape erect, tall. Raceme loose, elongated. Epichilum roundish, serrulated, callous in middle. Hypochilum large. Lobes obtuse, one-toothed, on disk, longer than column.
The genus Peristeria is a very splendid group of pseudo-bulbous epiphytes, among the interesting, grotesque, and beautiful family of orchids. Our present species is the most remarkable of its relations, and is indigenous to the Isthmus of Panama, where it is found growing in low marshy grounds, and springing from the trunks of fallen and rotten trees.
A writer in Harper's Magazine has furnished a very incorrect drawing of this plant, but has, nevertheless, so poetically described it, that I take the liberty of transcribing his words. "Very beautiful, too, were some of the flowers, among which were some of that rare variety of the orchid family known as the Espiritu Santo. Its blossom, which is of an alabaster whiteness, approaches the tulip in form, and gives forth a powerful perfume not unlike that of the magnolia; but it is neither for its beauty of shape, its purity, nor its fragrance, that it is chiefly esteemed. Resting within the cup of the flower, so marvellously formed that no human hand, be it ever so cunning, could excel the resemblance, lies the prone image of a dove. The exquisitely moulded pinions hang lifeless by its sides; the head bends gently forward; the tiny bill, tipped with a delicate carmine, (orange yd-low,) almost touches its snow-white breast; while the expression of the entire image (and it requires no stretch of the imagination to see the expression) seems the very incarnation of meekness and ethereal innocence.
No one who has seen this can wonder that the early Spanish Catholics, ever on the alert for any phenomenon upon which to fasten the idea of a miraculous origin, should have bowed down before this matchless flower and named it 4 Flor del Espiritu Santo,' or * The flower of the Holy Ghost;' nor that the still more superstitious Indian should have accepted the imposing title, and ever after gazed upon it with awe and devotional reverence, ascribing a peculiar sanctity even to the ground upon which it blossoms, and to the very air which it lades with delicious fragrance".
As the Dove Flower attracts so much of the attention of travellers over the Isthmus, and is often sent to, or brought by them for friends, who seldom succeed in cultivating it, and more particularly the blooming, a few remarks on this head may be of use to some of your readers. Being what we generally term a swamp plant, and a native of a warm climate, where the thermometer ranges between 75° and 95°, it requires to be kept in a temperature somewhat approaching its natural localities, and the roots in a loose, porous, but damp base. The method by which I have perfectly succeeded is as follows: Accept a soft-baked pot, in size according to the number and strength of the pseudo bulbs. Those large enough for flowering will be the size of a duck's egg, and for three such a gallon pot will be required. At the bottom, place some pieces of charcoal, stuff the crevices with moss, then more charcoal and moss until nearly full; fix in the bulbs now, around which put more moss, and outside this a few lumps more of charcoal to make them firm; then cover the surface with more moss, taking care that the bulbs are a trifle elevated in the centre of the pot, and only one-third*of their entire length covered.
Remove to a warm, close, and I damp glass-house, where a temperature is maintained of 60° to 70° in the night, and 85° to 90° during the day; shade from the sun, and only give sufficient water to keep the moss moist until the leaves, which spring from the base, have made some growth, after which they may be syringed overhead of an evening, and a more plentiful supply administered to the roots. When the bulbs are fully matured, which may be known by their solidity, and cessation from increase in size, water should be gradually withheld, and finally discontinued altogether, until the flower stems begin to show at the base on one side of the bulbs, after which it may be again plentifully applied as before advised. It will be readily seen that with the above practice there is an active development, and after a maturing and centralizing period, corresponding with the wet and dry seasons of the region inhabited by our subject, which, with the other details mentioned, will enable any person, who has the convenience, to grow, bloom, and enjoy this magnificent flower in all its natural beauty.
In conclusion, I ought to say, the period of rest is through November, December, and January, when the flower stems begin to push, and continue elongating until July, after which the flowers commence expanding, and continue on so for six or seven weeks.