In the early 19th Century gardening was still essentially a branch of collecting, of acquiring rare and spectacular plants, mainly for the pleasure of possessing them. There was huge interest in the new plants being imported into Britain from all over the world. There were in England alone no fewer than 10 illustrated botanical journals catering to that interest. Competition among them to be the first to publish and name new plants was fierce.
Prominent among these magazines were Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (CBM) and Edward’s Botanical Register (EBR). Edwards had been trained by Curtis and was CBM’s chief artist at the time he left to start up his own publication. So Curtis had good reason to want to pip EBR to the post on any new discovery.
William Hooker had become the Editor of CBM by 1828. He was a well-established botanist, later to be knighted for his services as Director of Kew Gardens. John Lindley, a younger man, was an up-and-coming botanist and Assistant Secretary to the Horticultural Society. He wrote for EBR and was later to become Editor. Both men were always on the lookout for new plants to publish and both were alerted later that year to a new plant which had recently flowered at Syon House, just across the Thames from Kew, and both duly published their work, in an unusual dead-heat, as recorded below:
“By a curious coincidence two English botanists, Lindley and Hooker, separately published on the same day in October 1828, a new genus based on the same plant. Lindley named the new genus Clivia and Hooker called it Imantophyllum” The plant in question was an introduction from the eastern Cape by Bowie and it grew in the hothouses at Kew and at Syon House, the residence of the Duchess of Northumberland. Lindley named the plant Clivia nobilis … It is said that the plant described by Lindley had been “surreptitiously obtained from Kew”.
Lindley wrote: “We have named this genus in compliment to her grace the Duchess of Northumberland, to whom we are greatly indebted for an opportunity of publishing it. Such a compliment has long been due to the noble family of Clive, and we are proud in having the honour of being the first to pay it.”
We can understand the dedication to Lady Clive, but why the reference to “the noble family of Clive” ? Well, it seems that Lady Clive was born into a plant-loving family. Her father, Edward Clive, First Earl of Powis (1754-1839) was a son of Robert Clive (Clive of India). He grew rare exotic plants and A was remarkable for his physical vigour, which he retained to an advanced age, digging in his garden in his shirtsleeves at six-o-clock in the morning when in his 80 th year. A blue blood with green fingers, as it were!
Her mother, Lady Henrietta Clive (1758-1830) discovered the plant Caralluma umbellata in c .1800, while in Mysore, India, with her husband. Her maiden name was Herbert, and she probably was related to Rev. William Herbert (1778-1847), a very good botanist and expert on bulbous plants, particularly amaryllids. His name is commemorated in the Herbert Medal, awarded by the International Bulb Society for meritorious work with bulbous plants.(Incidentally, Graham Duncan of Kirstenbosch , author of A How to Grow Clivia , is a recent recipient of that medal.) The International Bulb Society’s publication “Herbertia” is named in Herbert’s honour.
The good Reverend sounds like a typical member of one of our Clivia Clubs! Crossbreeding gave him an endless source of interest and amusement , and A he thought long and hard about all aspects of the plant he wanted to create, its brilliancy of colour, its perfume, hardiness and profusion of blossom. His ideas sparked off the explosion of crossbreeding during the 1830’s and 1840′ s. Herbert could well have been instrumental in the acquisition of the Clivia nobilis at Syon House.
Now what about the name Imantophyllum aitonii chosen by Hooker? Imantophyllum means “strap or thong-like leaves”. So far so good, but not as attractive a name as Clivia , is it?
In using the name aitonii , Hooker was being faithful to the wishes of James Bowie . Hooker records that Mr. Bowie mentioned to me a Cyrtanthus-like plant which he had found there (the Cape) and imported, and which, if it blossomed in this country, he desired might bear the specific name of his patron, Mr. Aiton. At that time it was the custom for collectors to honour their patrons in nominating names for plants.
William T. Aiton (1766-1849) was at Kew Botanical Gardens for 52 years, and became superintendent , succeeding his father who had been Royal Gardener before him. He had been the one to employ Bowie and trained him to go out collecting plants for Kew. He was in 1804 one of the seven founders of an organisation “for the improvement of horticulture”, which was eventually to become the Royal Horticultural Society. Five of the seven were honoured by having a newly discovered genus named after them.
So there were several good reasons why Hooker should have used Aiton’s name. However he had a problem; a genus, Aitonia , had already been named for Aiton senior, so that is why Hooker used aitonii as the species name, after the family name he chose of Imantophyllum .
Initially, the two names Imantophyllum and Clivia ranked equally, but in due course Clivia was given precedence and Hooker’s name fell away. Hence we are today the Clivia Society and not the Imantophyllum Society B or the Aitonii Club!! Had the plant flowered at Kew, the use of Aiton’s name would certainly have been appropriate. But it did not flower there.
Had the plant at Syon House been “surreptitiously acquired from Kew”? Was it grown from seedlings brought back to Britain by James Bowie when he returned from South Africa in 1823, or from another importation? Who actually owned the plant, Lady Clive, or her husband, Hugh Percy, 3 rd Duke of Northumberland? Were there perhaps several plants from more than one source at Syon House?
JOHN VAN DER LINDE(Clivia Society Newsletter #4 of 2002)