Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala

Laelia superbiens (close-up orchid flower detail)

Laelia superbiens (detail)

Brasavola glauca

Brasavola glauca

Laelia majalis

Laelia majalis

Odontoglossum hastatum - The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala

Odontoglossum hastatum

Sobralia macrantha

Sobralia macrantha

Stanhopea martiana

Stanhopea martiana

Barkeria spectabilis

Barkeria spectabilis

Catasetum maculatum - orchid from Guatemala

Catasetum maculatum

Cattleya skinneri - Guatemalan orchid

Cattleya skinneri

Chysis loevis - Mexican orchid

Chysis loevis

Tailpiece of Lady Grey of Groby

------"Nature breeds
Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things,
Abominable, unutterable, and worse
Than fables yet have feigned, or fear conceived,
Gorgons, and hydras, and chimeras dire." Milton
-Tailpiece of Lady Grey of Groby- : This was approximately how the (?)lithographic vignette was described in the adjacent text, which I didn't transcribe. I'm not certain, but I think the illustration was found or recommended by Lady Grey and was not actually produced by her. I have definitely seen this picture before but I don't recall the details. The fantasy scene is signed 'E. Lavdells' and is said to include - among other plant species - of a number of orchids.

engraved jungle scene - trumpet orchid

"The ants of Honduras, as it has been shown, turn to good account the long hollow stems of this singular plant; another purpose to which they are applied may be gathered from the Vignette, where an Indian child is seen sounding with all his might "an echoing horn", formed by merely cutting off the extremities. His companions emulate his musical ardour, but in their attempts to possess the materiel are interrupted by a catastrophe.

In such request are these vegetable trumpets among the wild urchins of Honduras, the plant yielding is called "the trumpet-plant," - an epithet that has suggested its specific name."

George Cruikshank vignette cartoon
"Those who have ever received a case of Orchidaceæ from the Tropics, know full well that the opening of it is attended with the most intense and feverish excitement: and those who have not been so fortunate, will be glad to gather some notion of such stirring scenes from the accompanying Vignette, - which, it is needless to say, is from the inimitable pencil of Cruikshank.

-If we read aright the address on that box, the cargo belongs to one of the most staunch and scientific collectors of his day, and we, therefore, only the more deeply deplore the calamity with which, it is but too clear his importation has been visited. The conduct of his people is, however, beyond all praise; and we earnestly pray that their gallant exertions may be crowned with triumphant success. It is indeed a cruel thing to expect Epiphytes, and receive only Cockroaches!! to see the very case which ought to have been richly stored with lusty Orchidaceæ, prove, upon opening, to contain nothing more than - "Lucifugis congesta cubilia blattis!!" [Virgil] "

'Begone, dull care..' - A figure of Mexican manufacture
A figure of Mexican manufacture

"Begone, dull care, I prithee begone from me." --Old Song.

James Bateman (1811-1897) came from a well to do family and was an enthusiastic hobby botanist from a young age. By the time he was pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree at University, exotic orchid species were all the rage in horticultural circles, coinciding with the development of a successful cultivation regime for the British climate.

Part of the appeal for orchid enthusiasts of the era was the wide range of flowering species in the group and the diversity of locations in which the plants were found. If you wanted to impress your neighbour or friend with rare orchid species, it necessitated mounting expeditions to far away climes, a costly and potentially dangerous exercise that no doubt redoubled the romantic associations and general desire for specimens.

Bateman sponsored a number of orchid hunting trips to Central and South America and, together with relationships established with collectors in the tropical regions, he was able to have large numbers of unique orchid species brought back to England. As an avid life long hobbyist, Bateman actively set about propogating the plants in purpose-built facilities at his family estate. Horticultural experts were called in to help identify and classify the orchids, artists were commissioned to record them for posterity and Bateman began to write books about his botanical obsession.

Chief among his written output was a jumbo folio work on the orchids of Mexico and Guatemala, published for subscribers during the years 1837-1843. Only one hundred and twenty five complete copies were produced making this huge book one of the rarest among the orchid literature. As can be seen above, it's quite an eccentric book, mixing the descriptive scientific text and hand coloured flower illustrations with otherwise (seemingly) random or tenuously connected black and white vignettes, together with literary, humorous and anecdotal asides. Just my cup of tea.

All of the above images were extensively spot cleaned and there are a few more illustrations saved in the set not posted here.


Michael said...


I thought I'd left a comment here about the beauty contained in this post.


peacay said...

Michael, to the best of my knowledge I've only ever accidentally deleted a non-spam comment once. If that was your comment here, I apologise. But yes, this is an exquisitely beautiful folio for which words alone don't quite do it justice.

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