Notice

Colin Mills, compiler of the Hortus Camdenensis, died in late November 2012 after a short illness. As he always considered the Hortus his legacy, it is his family's intention to keep the site running in perpetuity. It will not, however, be updated in the near future.

The Family Amaryllidaceae at Camden Park

Amaryllidaceae was a very significant family of plants in the history of the Camden Park gardens.  The following Essay provides a little background to these important plants.

John Bidwill and William Macarthur hybridised many plants in the family but arguably their most important and lasting contribution to gardens is the hybrid amaryllis x Amarygia parkeri, named for William’s younger sister Emmeline Parker who was also involved in its development.  Camden Park is still home to a large number of these wonderful plants in a range of colours.

It is perhaps not surprising that so many Amaryllids were grown at Camden Park.  Bulbs are relatively cheap and easy to transport and bulbs of many species, particularly the hardy ones, were freely available from London seed merchants, imported in large quantities from Holland and Italy.  The ships regularly sailing between England and New South Wales called into many ports along the way, in South America, the Cape of Good Hope and Mauritius in particular.  Bulbs were available in large quantities in the markets of the port towns and were no doubt bartered for by ships’ Captains aiming to profit from the high level of interest in gardening shown by the landed gentry of the new colony.

Eighteenth and nineteenth century botanists were entranced with the Amaryllids described and illustrated in the many and widely circulated botanical journals of the day, often within months of their introduction into British gardens.  The first of these journals in English, and the most enduring, was Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, first published in 1787 and continuing to this day.  This established the format which was followed by almost all of them: formal botanical description in Latin or English; additional data on such things as origin, by whom introduced and cultural requirements; and detailed and accurate hand-painted engraving of each plant. 

Whilst the family of Amaryllidaceae was well defined, there was considerable argument amongst botanists on genera within the family and on the species that should be assigned to a particular genus.  ‘This splendid family has been a good deal tortured of late; some botanists have been endeavouring to dissect it into fifteen or twenty parts, each to be called a genus.  From this we are not aware that science would derive any great advantage, unless indeed the raising of “much learned dust” be deemed such, of which we cannot help entertaining doubts.’  Conrad Loddiges.  [LBC no.847/1824].  Conrd Loddiges, German in origin, was one of the most prominent nurserymen in London at this time.

John Bidwill, friend and correspondent of William Herbert, author of Amaryllidaceae (1837), the first detailed English monograph on the family, was very much in sympathy with Conrad Loddiges and had his own decided views on these matters which he seemed to be preparing to publish before he became seriously ill in 1852.  Bidwill would certainly have influenced Macarthur and the notes he made at that time are a useful reference point for considering the plants grown by Macarthur and the various names used by him in his catalogues and correspondence.  Bidwill’s notes are in rough form and I have made minimal changes to his very sketchy punctuation to improve readability. 

On certain genera of Amaryllidaceae belonging to the division “Amaryllidiformes’’ of Herbert

I have never been able to discover the grounds for making separate genera of Crinum, Amaryllis, Brunsvigia, Buphane & Ammocharis; and am of opinion that the whole should be united.  To begin with Crinum & Amaryllis.  I will for this comparison take A. belladonna as the exemplification of the genus: supposing that the relation of that species to the others is universally admitted.  On making this comparison I find that the only difference which is not merely a difference in degree is that the leaves of Crinum are convolute in aestivation and that they are not so in Belladonna: in both genera they are tubular at base. 

Now if the plants called Haemanthus but having sheathing leaves are really species of Haemanthus this difference is not sufficient to constitute a genesic difference between other plants of the same family.  Crinum has generally a long tube; but this as Mr. Herbert says is a variable feature, and I find accordingly that the tube of C. revolutum is hardly larger than that of Belladonna – between the two plants I can see no difference except in leaf and time of flowering and if the genus Crinum should be abolished these plants would follow one another very naturally as A. belladonna & A. revolutum.  I regret that I have had no opportunity of observing the ripe seed of Revolutum but the immature capsule strongly resembles that of Belladonna at the same age.  The chief difference between seeds of Crinum and Belladonna is in size: seeds of Crinum are often very large and of Belladonna rarely larger than a pea but I have had occasional seeds of C. pedunculatum not larger than peas and once saw a seed of Belladonna nearly an inch across.  The transparency of the seeds of Belladonna is peculiar to itself for the seeds of A. Josephiniana are as opake [sic] as those of any Crinum, while those of some of the Australian Crinums confounded under the name of Flaccidum are nearly as watery as those of Belladonna.           

Supposing Brunsvigia multiflora to be the correct type of the genus I am totally at a loss to imagine how it can be separated from Amaryllis.  The capsule of Josephiniana has its sides puffed out so as in some measure to destroy its triangularity while the capsule of Multiflora being twice as broad the angles are very distinct: there is not the slightest difference in the texture of the two capsules: they both appear perfectly membraneous when dry and do not then show any appearance of a papery coat, which is however sufficient perceptible at an earlier stage especially if the weather is rainy at the time.  The seeds of the two plants are precisely similar and the flowers are so much alike that it is difficult to point at any difference except that the lower part of that of Josephiniana is marked with irregular brownish spots which are absent in Multiflora.  Both plants are shy seed bearers and as I have often been unable to get seed from either of them by artificial impregnation with their own pollen it is not wonderful that Mr. Herbert should have failed to produce a cross between them.  In some seasons or in particular climates I dare say the cross might be easily produced.  See p.282 [of Herbert's Amaryllidaceae] where Mr. Herbert hints his suspicions of this genus. 

Had I seen only Buphane distycha I should have been inclined to think that the affinity of the genus was closer to Haemanthus than to Brunsvigia: but B. toxicaria is nothing but a Brunsvigia with an attenuated inflorescence; the capsule is hardly more membraneous than that of Brunsvigia multiflora: and the seeds are almost precisely similar to those of A. belladonna.  I therefore consider that the genus should be reunited to Amaryllis, with which I have no doubt it would breed.  In a climate without frost in winter B. toxicaria keeps its leaves for an indefinite period.  I have known a plant which has not flowered in constant growth for three years, the leaves suddenly wither just before the plant flowers which is generally in the middle of summer or about the time that the leaves of A. belladonna die.  B. distycha sheds its leaves early in the summer, and immediately throws up its scape.  B. ciliaris I have not seen in flower.

Ammocharis falcata (I have never seen Coranica) has the flower of Belladonna, the capsule of B. multiflora and the seed of Crinum; the leaf is peculiar but it does not differ more from that of Belladonna than does the leaf of Multiflora.  I have never been able to impregnate Belladonna by Falcata: but I ascribe my failure to the circumstance of the pollen of Falcata so speedily decaying.  In every instance I have observed, it has turned brown and become confluent within a few hours after the expansion of the flower: but this may not take place in all climates [this sentence written in pencil although in the same hand].  This plant does not lose its leaves in winter in a temperate climate like that of the Cape and flowers about Midsummer: previous to flowering its leaves wither.  I had once several capsules of this plant impregnated by Amaryllis belladonna but they were stolen when just ripe and I have never had another opportunity of trying to cross it.  [Bidwill p.50-51].