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.
When, in the autumn of 1851, Mr. Cope was enabled to acquaint Mr. Downing with the successful result of his munificent zeal in the cultivation of the far-famed Victoria, I am sure he little anticipated the fact that in two short seasons he would be entitled to claim from the horticultural world the credit of introducing to their notice another plant of the same character - perhaps better known, but scarcely less beautiful, and certainly not less interesting - the Nelumbium speciosum.
Our climate is unsuited to the superior production, either by nature or through art, of some things in which our trans-atlantic friends excel; but, on the other hand, it is adapted to the perfection of other highly ornamental objects, which can scarcely be attained by them in any way, and which are calculated to give to American horticulture an envied character peculiarly its own. The Nelumbium, as the following account of its success with us shows, is one of these things. Though for sixty years introduced into English collections, it is there comparatively scarce, and retained with great difficulty. Judging from a late number of the Revue Horticole, it is a rarity even in the more temperate latitudes of France, as it details the sensation its first flowering created in Paris. To American cultivators it has been hitherto comparatively unknown.
The seeds from which our plants were raised, were procured for Mr. Cope by Mr. Ezra Bowen, of Philadelphia, while on a voyage to Calcutta last winter. I divided the seed into two sets: those of one I filed through the outer coating at one end, until the fleshy part of the seed was just discernible; the other I sowed just as they were, plunging the pans of seed in water kept from 80° to 90°. The former germinated in about ten days. Soon after they were separately potted, and made a very rapid growth. Early in spring our first experiment with it was made, in a large box plunged in our Victoria tank. Your readers will remember that an essential part of our successful treatment of the Victoria, lies in obscuring the glass. We soon found that the Nelumbium disliked this shade; and so, on the 20th of May, we made a trial of it in the full sun, in a tank out of doors, wherein the Victoria had been unsuccessfully tried the year previous. This tank is oval, about fifteen feet long in its widest diameter, and the water in it being about three feet deep, constantly renewed by the waste water from the overflow of our hydraulic reservoir. The water was 65°, in the mud at the bottom of which we planted three very weak plants. For more than a month they made little progress.
As the weather grew warmer their growth became rapid in proportion, till by the beginning of July the tank was completely covered by a profusion of fine foliage, some of the leaves reaching two feet in diameter. Soon after this the amphibious (excuse the term) leaves appeared, like so many inverted parasols, rising from two to three feet out of the water; and connected with them appeared the flower buds, rising erect out of the water in the same manner. On the 14th of September the first blossom fully expanded, being a little less than four months from the time the scarcely-rooted plants were planted there. The flowers are less evanescent than the Victoria, remaining in perfection several days. They are of a delicate rose color, declining gradually to a white as it approaches the center; while high in the middle rises its inverted cone-like receptacle, with about eighteen stigmas equally distributed over its flat yellow surface. When laid out, the diameter of our flower is about nine inches; but the fragrance which travelers speak of is scarcely perceptible. It will undoubtedly become one of our most popular plants for open air culture.
I should not be surprised to find, in a few years, a Nelumbium tank an essential in every garden of any pretensions.
The question is yet undecided, whether the roots will be able to withstand the severity of our winters. I have every confidence that they will. The mean temperature of the coldest month in the year in Pekin, where this plant abounds, is, according to Baron Humboldt, 24.62, while that of the latitude in which I write is estimated as high as 32.72. The probability is that the only care requisite will be to place the roots so deep as to be out of the reach of actual frost.
It was a singular coincidence, that on the very day this lovely blossom first opened with us, the Espiruto Sancto (Peristeria elata of orchidaceous collections), of which the curious resemblance to a dove of its flowers has obtained for it the name of "Holy Spirit" plant by the Spanish, and such a round of paragraphs from the newspapers lately, should also open its really fragrant blossoms - both expanding together, and both the gratefully-acknowledged offerings, within a few months, of enthusiastic friends in distant countries. The bulbs of the latter were the gift of Mrs. Totten, to whom they were transmitted by her distinguished husband, now employed on the Panama railroad.
It may interest you to learn that the original plant of the Victoria is as flourishing as ever, the flower opening to-night (September 17 th) being the one hundred and thirty-fifth which it has produced.