It must have been very soon after 1864, the year in which Regel pronounced that C. miniata and the pendulous Clivia were members of the same genus, that Charles Raes, one of the section heads in Louis van Houtte’s nursery near Ghent in Belgium, had the idea of putting pollen from a C. miniata onto a C. nobilis to make the first known interspecific cross. By then C. nobilis had been grown in Europe for about 40 years, and C. miniata for 10 years. The idea was still quite daring for the times: there was still a strong prejudice against hybridisation. “It was said that by cross-breeding plants, people were flying in the face of providence and that the process was wicked . an impious interference with the laws of nature.”
Louis van Houtte, Raes’ boss, not only owned the nursery, but he was the publisher of a richly illustrated horticultural magazine, “Flore des Serres et Jardins de l’Europe”. Van Houtte lost no time, in 1869, in describing and picturing Raes’ plant, which must therefore have flowered within 4 years from seed – or else Raes did the cross before 1864.
The cross was named “Imantophyllum cyrtanthiflorum“, the Greek words meaning ‘straplike leaves’ and ‘flowers like a Cyrtanthus, or curved- flowered’ respectively. Van Houtte says that its stems rose one after the other, with large multiflower heads, with a resultant long overall flowering period. He tells of an excited botanist, who did not know of the plant’s origin, who thought he had hit on a new species! As a matter of interest, until even the end of the 1800’s, many nurserymen were hesitant to exhibit their hybrids as such at Shows “because they might injure the feelings of some over-sensitive religious persons; and they therefore exhibited them as wild species from abroad”
Van Houtte was both a brilliant plantsman and a successful businessman. Born in 1810, he studied at the Brussels Botanical Garden, where he became Director, probably in his mid-20s. He left in 1839 to start his own nursery. His business mushroomed and soon covered 75 acres, with over 50 glasshouses and many thousands of frames, with many new and rare plants he obtained from hybridizing or from the collectors he sent overseas looking for plants. He was also the founder of the Royal Horticultural Institute, which soon became world-famous.
In Harold Koopowitz’s book “Clivias”, which also shows a picture of that first known interspecific cross, which today is known as C. Cyrtanthiflora, there was a C. miniata “van Houtte”. I wonder whether there is a plant of any kind by which to remember the brave hybridiser, Charles Raes?
The quotations above are from a speech by the Chairman at the first RHS conference on hybridization and crossbreeding, held in 1899, as repeated in the book “The ingenious Mr. Fairchild”, by Michael Lipman.
John van der Linde
(from Clivia Society Newsletter Vol 12 number 4, 2003)