History of Clivia

History of Clivia

Since the first Clivia was collected from the Eastern Cape in the early 1800’s, many things have occurred. In this section we look at the history of the discoveries of the various species as well as the people who named them and after whom they were named.

A Brief History of Clivia

The English naturalist William J. Burchell is recorded as having been the first person to make a scientific collection of a Clivia (C. nobilis ) in the wild, which he did near the mouth of the Great Fish River in the Eastern Cape in September 1815. During the early 1820s, the intrepid Kew gardener and botanical collector, James Bowie, gathered plants of this species, a pendulous-flowered clivia, in the same area of the Eastern Cape and sent them to England. In October 1828, Kew botanist and horticulturist John Lindley described Clivia nobilis and named it after Lady Charlotte Florentine Clive, Duchess of Northumberland. Lady Clive had been cultivating many of Bowie’s plants in her conservatory at Syon House, just over the Thames from Kew. One of South Africa’s showiest bulbous plants, the trumpet-flowered Clivia miniata, was discovered in KwaZulu-Natal in the early 1850s, and has been in cultivation in England for a century and a half. During the Victorian era it became a very popular indoor plant. In 1856, Major Robert Garden collected a different pendulous-flowered Clivia species in KwaZulu-Natal, which was sent to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and later described as C. gardenii. The discovery of the first yellow form of Clivia miniata in about 1888 in Zululand, KwaZulu-Natal, provided gardeners and breeders in England with yet another sought-after floral prize from South Africa. The first published report of the yellow clivia was made by Mr W.Watson in volume 25 of The Gardener’s Chronicle in 1899, which he followed with a formal description of C. miniata var. citrina in volume 56 of The Garden, published the same year. C. caulescens, another pendulous-flowered Clivia which develops a curious aerial stem with age, occurs in the eastern parts of Mpumalanga and in the Northern Province. It was described by Dr R.A. Dyer in 1943. In 2002 a fifth species Clivia mirabilis was discovered.

Not surprisingly, Clivia miniata aroused the interest of horticulturists and breeders almost immediately after its discovery, and many fabulous hybrids were subsequently raised in England, Belgium, Germany and other countries. During the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Clivia cultivation for indoor pot plants became the rage in the United Kingdom and Belgium, and although its popularity decreased in both countries in the early 1960s, a thriving Clivia industry still exists in Belgium today, producing many hundreds of thousands of flowering pot plants annually. Probably the most well known Clivia hybrid is Clivia x cyrtanthiflora, raised by Charles Raes in Ghent, Belgium in the late 1850s, and published by Van Houtte in 1869. It is reputed to be a hybrid between C. miniata and C. nobilis.

Early pioneers of Clivia cultivation and breeding in South Africa were undoubtedly the inimitable Gladys Blackboard and the intrepid Gordon McNeil, both of whom belonged to that rare breed of person where individuality of spirit, and obsession with clivias and nature meant everything. Beginning in the late 1920s, Miss Gladys I. Blackbeard reared a fabulous collection of Clivia hybrids over a period of more than thirty years at Scott’s Farm, Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. Over a fifty-year period, Gordon McNeil amassed a vast collection of Clivia species and hybrids, as well as many other bulbous plants, at Cyprus Farm near Ofcolaco in the Northern Province, which he tended right up until his death in 1986. Gordon’s Clivia breeding began in 1962 when he bought Gladys Blackbeard’s collection which, according to Gordon’s sister-in-law, Mrs Adelaide McNeil, ‘required a whole railway truck to transport all the plants to the nearest railway station, and then to Cyprus Farm, where in ideal conditions they continue to thrive’. Gordon conducted countless hybridization experiments with his bulbs, including many intergeneric crosses; he was particularly proud of his putative hybrid between Clivia miniata and an unidentified Hippeastrum species, which he named ‘Green Girl’, of which the author was fortunate enough to receive a plant shortly before Gordon’s passing. Since his death, his clivias continue to be tended by his wife, Marguerite Rose McNeil, at Cyprus Farm.

In more recent times, the focus on Clivia breeding has shifted to the Far East, where a most impressive range of intraspecific hybrids (hybrids between different forms of C. miniata) as well as interspecific hybrids (hybrids between different Clivia species) have been raised. Clivia miniata is a very popular pot plant in China, Korea and Japan, and during a visit to Japan in 1991, the author was astonished to find a 120-page colour booklet in a local Kyushu supermarket covering every imaginable aspect of its cultivation and propagation! Masters of the art of plant selection, and seemingly obsessed with all plants exhibiting variegated foliage, the Japanese have produced a remarkable array of variegated forms of C. miniata and numerous hybrids. Most famous among present-day Clivia breeders in that country is the affable and super-generous Mr Yoshikazu Nakamura, who holds the world’s most diverse collection of Clivia germ plasm at his Clivia Breeding Plantation south of Tokyo. Equally popular, if not more so, is the cultivation and breeding of C. miniata in the People’s Republic of China, where dwarf, orange-flowered cultivars are widely grown as pot subjects. Clivia miniata is so popular in the city of Changchun, in north-eastern China, that its flower has become the city’s emblem. During a recent visit to that country, the author was greatly surprised to see countless pots of flowering Clivia miniata surrounding the embalmed body of Mao Tse Tung inside the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall on Tiananmem Square, Beijing, which greatly relieved the otherwise sombre, austere surroundings. Clivia miniata became a popular container plant inside the palaces of the last imperial Chinese dynasty because of its symbolic longevity, with beautiful leaves further enhanced by flowers in season. In fact, the cultivation of clivias in the Far East is focused primarily on the beauty of the foliage – the dark green shiny leaves and variegated foliage that provide pleasure throughout the year – and not only its flower.

A tremendous international resurgence in the cultivation and breeding of Clivia has taken place over the past ten years. In South Africa this renewed interest resulted in the formation of the Clivia Club in 1992. It includes several regional branches within this country, and enjoys an impressive local and international membership.

Used by permission of National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
Extract from Kirstenbosch Gardening Series, Grow Clivias by Graham D Duncan. Published in 1999 by National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.

James Bowie

The earliest scientific record of Clivia nobilis, first described in 1828, is a specimen collected by Burchell near the mouth of the Great Fish River in September 1815. The plant, however, was in fact one (of several?) collected by James Bowie, probably in 1822, and described as growing “on shaded spots, near Quagga flats, and more common in the Albany tracts, near the great Fish River”.


Bowie was born in London around 1790, the son of a seed merchant. He joined the staff of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 1810, where he was trained in horticulture and plant collecting under William Aiton , the Superintendent.  Four years later he was sent to Brazil to collect seeds and plants for Kew. He arrived at the Cape from Brazil in November 1816, still only about 26 years old, as a professional plant collector.


For the next 6 years Bowie sent many bulbous plants, succulents and seeds back to Kew, collected on his expeditions to the southern and eastern Cape Province, and also northwards to the Orange River.

 In 1822 the government grant for Kew was drastically reduced and the following year Bowie was recalled to London. “Every friend of Science must regret that this indefatigable Naturalist, after sending the greatest treasures both of living and dried plants to the Royal Gardens has, by a needless stretch of parsimony, been recalled”, wrote W.J. Hooker (who was later to become Director of Kew), in the Botanical Magazine, of which he was Editor.  It should also be said that it is stated elsewhere that Bowie “lacked application”.

 Bowie found it hard to settle down in London, and spent much of his time “among the free and easy companions of the bar parlours, recounting apocryphal stories of his Brazilian and Cape travels, largely illustrated with big snake and wilde-beeste (sic) adventures”, as recorded in the Journal of Botany (27) 1889.  He began drinking too much.

 In fact, poor James’ problems may have begun earlier, back in South Africa, where it is possible “that he may have needed to supplement his salary by surreptitiously selling horticultural curiosities from the Eastern Cape such as cycads, strelitzias and crinums to the worthy burghers of Cape Town”.

 Bowie returned independently to the Cape in 1827 (the year before C. nobilis was described) and, after collecting plants on his own, he began work as Garden Superintendent and plant collector for Baron von Ludwig, a prominent and wealthy Capetonian. By 1842, by then in his early fifties, Bowie was working on his own again, but still collecting mainly for von Ludwig.

 Sadly, “his habits were such as to interfere with his prospects”. Towards the end of his life, constantly short of money and in poor health, Bowie was employed by H.M. Arderne, most probably in today’s Arderne Gardens in Claremont. He died in Wynberg in 1869, when he must have been close to 80. He never married.

 In his younger days Bowie had contributed articles, mainly on aloes, to the “South African Quarterly Journal”. His name is commemorated in the genus Bowiea .

 James Bowie might have ranked among the great botanical collectors of the Cape. However, it is said that his habit of giving wrong localities on the labels accompanying his plants has made his collections of little use to botanists. Maybe he was just trying to put rival collectors off the scent!  Certainly competition among collectors could have been fierce – Bowie complained there was even “an officer of the army who has sometimes 40 soldiers at a time told off to collect for him”.

 Poor old Bowie. At least we can now remember him, and give him the recognition, which is his due, for collecting what was to become the type specimen of Clivia nobilis.

 John van der Linde
(from Clivia Society Newsletter Volume 11 number 3, 2002)

Robert Jones Garden

Clivia gardenii was named for this many-sided man: professional soldier, civil servant, a gifted and observant journal writer, a prickly personality; a talented amateur, geologist, artist and a plant collector of note.  He is also something of a mystery, as is his gardenii.

I say this because there is no trace of him or his parentage in the birth records of England, Scotland or Wales; nor a record of where and when he died.  As for his plant, all that we know is that it was found somewhere in Natal.  Annoyingly, he does not seem to have recorded the exact vicinity.

My guess is that Garden was born in India around 1820 and may eventually have died there, after an army career from 1839 to 1854 in India and South Africa, two years in Britain, and then consular service in India from 1856 to 1862.

He came to South Africa with his regiment to fight in the Frontier Wars in the Eastern Cape, and was thereafter stationed in Natal, mainly based at Pietermaritzburg, from 1848 to 1853.  He joined up in 1839 and rose to Major in 1854, the year in which he retired from the army. By my reckoning he would then have been in his mid-thirties.

Garden was said to be a heavily built man, capable, but with little sense of humour, who quarrelled with his commanding officer and many others.  He was sent to find a new way through the Drakensberg to what is now the Free State, but could not find a suitable pass.  He was also sent on other official trips, maybe to get him out of his boss’s hair!  Maybe it is also not a coincidence that he seems to have spent much of his own time (out on his own?) on ox-wagon trips collecting plants and geological specimens.

With an easy pen he recorded most of what he saw and heard; about plants, people and the history of Natal as it was unfolding. His journals, in which he was critical of Boers, Brits, missionaries, wagon drivers and others, are preserved in the Garden Collection in the Natal Archives in Pietermaritzburg. Several of his drawings and watercolour paintings, which show that he was an artist of some merit, are in the Killie Campbell Africana Library in Durban.

Hooker mentions that when Garden arrived in England from South Africa he delivered an interesting collection of living plants to Kew Gardens, on which several new species were based, e.g. Clivia gardenii, Streptocarpus gardenii , Begonia natalensis , and Hypoxis latifolia . The clivia plant flowered at Kew in the English winter of 1855/6 and was subsequently described by Hooker in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine in 1856.  He abandoned the genus name of Imantophyllum (“strap-like leaves”) that he had initially used back in 1828 for the species we now know as Clivia nobilis .  He used (with mixed feelings?) his rival author Lindley’s name, ” Clivia”, which by then was generally accepted, and created the species name “gardenii ” to honour our difficult friend, Robert Jones Garden.  Another plant he named for Garden was Albuca gardenii.

Garden may have had private means because he apparently had intended to retire in England, working on and publishing his writings on Natal, but this was never done. Perhaps he could not adapt to the climate, because within a year or two he left for India to take up a post in the consular service there. He continued to send plants to Kew, at least until 1862. I wonder what became of him after that?

John van der Linde
(from Clivia Society Newsletter Vol 12 number 2, 2003)

William John Burchell

Many lovers of South African flora and fauna are familiar with Burchell’s name. You know of Burchell’s Zebra, and his Coucal, but what do you know about him and his clivia?

 He was born in Fulham, London, in 1781, the son of a nurseryman. Having worked for a time at Kew, he was employed on the island of St Helena as a schoolmaster and acting botanist. His fiancée sailed from England to marry him there but went off with the ship’s captain instead. Burchell, who never married after that experience, left for Cape Town in 1810. There he had a wagon specially built for him, and in June 1811 he trekked off into the interior on a journey lasting four years, accompanied only by six Hottentot servants and his span of oxen. His wagon and equipment cost , 600 (around , 40000 in today’s money, i.e. R550000, or US$64000), all apparently financed by the 30 year-old Burchell himself.

 He collected over 40000 plants on his 4500 mile (7200 km) trip; most now dried specimens in the Kew Herbarium. Many were described as new species and several were named in his honour. He returned to England in 1815, laden with all manner of specimens and data collected on his remarkable trek. He had also made many drawings, including landscapes, portraits, and costumes, zoological, botanical and other features. “Probably no such collection gathered by one man ever left Africa before or since”, wrote the author of A A botanist in Southern Africa (Hutchinson 1946: 625).

 Burchell spent the next decade back in Fulham, arranging his specimens and writing up his results. These record the locations and dates of observation of about 8700 plants, taking up 14 volumes of neat manuscript, now stored in the library at Kew. One of his specimens (there were two others collected later) is the earliest scientific record of a Clivia nobilis, collected on 28/9 September 1813 at “Kaffir Drift / Date Tree Station” , in the Bathurst district. This spot lies south-west of where Bowie is recorded by Hooker as having found plants near the mouth of the Great Fish River, probably in 1823, ten years later. According to Dr Robert Archer of the National Botanical Institute in Pretoria, it appears that Burchell may have intended to publish his specimen as Cyrtanthus sylvatica , i.e. the forest cyrtanthus, but he never got around to doing so. This would probably have preceded Lindley’s name of Clivia nobilis.

 During his time at Fulham many enthusiasts visited Burchell to see his collections, and one of those who saw “Burchell’s Clivia” was instrumental in locating and importing living specimens to Britain, some time in the 1820’s.

 John van der Linde
(from the Clivia Society Newsletter #1 of 2003)

Charles Raes & Louis van Houtte

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)

Eduard Regel

 Clivia miniata was introduced to Europe in the early 1850s, and rapidly became popular as a showy pot-plant, yet it took until 1864 to get its current name.

 The story begins 90 years earlier in 1774, when a bulbous plant with lovely large trumpet-shaped flowers resembling those of C. miniata was collected in the Southern Cape.  It was taken back to Europe and, because it readily made offsets, was soon quite widely grown.  It was named Vallota speciosa (meaning ‘showy’) for Pierre Vallot, an early French botanical writer, and was the only plant in the genus Vallota.   More about this plant later.  First, the confusion it caused.

 James Backhouse, a nurseryman from York, had imported plants we now know as C. miniata from Natal (with seeds?).  One of these plants, in full and glorious flower, was exhibited at a meeting of the Horticultural Society in London in February 1854.  It created quite a stir, and within a few years seedlings were being grown in several countries.  Yet no one was sure what it was!

 Lindley, who had named C. nobilis back in 1828, scratched his head over this one, which had leaves described as ‘stout’  (interesting?), and such a different flower to nobilis , that he was not convinced they belonged in the same genus.  Because the flower seemed similar to that of Vallota speciosa , he doubtfully identified the plant as Vallota? miniata (meaning ‘coloured with red lead’).

 Hooker, on the other hand, felt this new plant was nearer to Clivia than Vallota , but, because of the very different flowers, wasn’t sure either.  So he doubtfully named it Imantophyllum? miniatum .

 Anyway, the confusion caused by the Vallota -like flowers seems to have existed for 10 years until 1864 when Eduard Regel (1815 -1892), the eminent German botanist, settled the matter.  In a short one-page article in “Gartenflora”, the journal for German, Swiss and Russian plant people, he pronounced that, although the flowers were trumpet-shaped and more upright, unlike the tubular pendulous flowers of the other two Clivia species then known, the plant belonged in the genus Clivia , as established by Lindley.

 His words carried weight, his brief C.V. being: he worked at botanical gardens at Gottingen, Bonn, Berlin, Zurich (where he lectured at the University and got his Ph.D.) and St Petersburg, where he was Scientific Director and finally Director General. Regel introduced many plants, chiefly from Central Asia, described them and distributed them liberally to botanic gardens and nurseries outside Russia. He was a founder of both the Swiss and Russian Horticultural Societies and a prolific author. The genus Regelia of five flowering shrubs from W. Australia was named in his honour.

 So, at the end of the day, that is why Regel’s name is included in the full botanical name of our favorite plant, which is now so admired throughout the world:  Clivia miniata (Lindl.) Regel.

 Now, to return to the plant that had given rise to all the confusion, V. speciosa .  It has been known over the years by various names including V. dumbletonii, Amaryllis purpurea, A. elata, and C yrtanthus purpurea . You may know it by one of it’s common names, George lily, Knysna lily, or Scarborough lily.  In some parts of the world it is still known in the trade as Vallota but it is indeed the most famous of all the Cyrtanthus species, C. elatus , with it’s beautiful trumpet-shaped scarlet flowers. Almost as desirable as C. miniata?   Certainly the amaryllis lily borer thinks so!

 For brevity I have not listed references, though I have them available.  I would like to thank Keith Hammett for sending me information on Regel and also the article from ‘Gartenflora”.

John van der Linde
(from Clivia Society Newsletter Vol 12 number 3, 2003)

Lindley, J. 1828. Clivia nobilis. Edwards’s Botanical Register 14: t.1182.


CLIVIA* nobilis.

Scarlet Clivia.



CLIVIA. – Perianthium tubulosum, sexpartitum, deciduum, laciniis imbricantibus; exterioribus paulo brevioribus. Stamina sex, aequalia, perianthio basin versus inserta; filamenta subulata, subinclusa; antherae versatiles. Ovarium 3-loculare polyspermum. Fructus baccatus, indehiscens, monospermus. Semen carnosum; subrotundum. Herba ( Capensis), radicibus fasciculatis, foliis distichis, floribus umbellatis pendulis. Scapo plano-convexo!


C. nobilis.

Radices carnosi, fasciculati. Folia disticha, coriacea, atroviridia, ligulata, basi vaginantia, apice retusa obliqua, margine scabra. Scapus erectus, plano-convexus, marginatus, versus fastigium sulcatus. Flores circiter 48 v. 50, longe pedunculati, umbellati, penduli. Perianthium tubulosum, clavatum, deciduum, laciniis luteo-coccineis, apice virescentibus, obtusis, duplici ordine imbricatis, versus basin connatis, exterioribus paulo brevioribus,Lachenaliae modo. Stamina 6, fauce tubi inserta, aequalia; filamenta glabra; antherae parvae, ovales, viridi-luteae, versatiles. Ovarium inferum, luteo-viride, 3-loculare, polyspermum, sphaericum, ventricosum; ovula plurima versus basin axeos inserta; stylus filiformis; stigma subtrilobum. Fructus baccatus, indehiscens, ruber, saepius, loculis 2, ovulisque plurimis abortientibus, monospermus; apice perianthio deciduo cicatrizatus. Semen unicum, ascendens, (maturum non vidi), glaberrimum, hyalinum, ovale; hilo parvo suprabasilari; foramine basilari; raphe brevi, elevata. Testa junior minutissime areolata; albumen copiosum . Embryo. . . . . .


This noble plant is supposed to have been one of the discoveries of Mr. Bowie at the Cape of Good Hope, from some of the inner districts of which colony it was probably procured. The plant from which our drawing was made, flowered for the second time in July last, in the princely Garden of his Grace the Duke of Northumberland, at Syon House, and was communicated to us by Mr. Forrest, to whom we are indebted for several observations upon its habit and characters.

At first sight it has so much the appearance of a Cyrtanthus that it may easily be mistaken for one, especially if the detached flowers only are seen. But upon a more minute examination, it will be found that it is not only not referable to that genus, but that it is actually doubtful whether it does not belong to a distinct natural order. In the ‘first’ place, it does not form a bulb, an almost indispensable character of Amaryllideae, from which there is but one other variation hitherto known, namely in Doryanthes. In the second place, the fruit is not a dehiscent dry capsule, but fleshy and indehiscent; and, thirdly, the seeds are not numerous, compressed, and membranous, but solitary, round, and fleshy. It is, therefore, obviously distinct from Cyrtanthus; and there is no other Amaryllideous genus to compare with it, except Eustephia, the fruit of which is still unknown, but which is peculiarly characterised by its 3-toothed filaments, and which is probably not far removed from Phycella.

Perhaps the real affinity of this plant cannot at present be determined: to us it appears most closely allied to Haemanthus, the bulbs of which are very imperfect.

A greenhouse plant, not appearing to require particular care in its cultivation, and propagating either by seeds or suckers.

Roots fleshy, fascicled. Leaves distichous, coriaceous, dark green, strap-shaped, sheathing at the base, retuse and oblique at the apex, rough at the margin. Scape erect, plano-convex, bordered, furrowed towards the summit. Flowers from 48 to 50, on long stalks, pendulous, arranged in an umbel. Perianth tubular, clavate, deciduous; the segments yellowish scarlet, greenish at the apex, obtuse, imbricated in a double row, cohering towards the base, the outer rather shorter than the inner, like those of a Lachenalia. Stamens 6, inserted in the orifice of the tube, equal; filaments smooth; anthers small, oval, greenish yellow, versatile. Ovarium inferior, greenish yellow, 3-celled, many seeded, round, ventricose. Ovula numerous, inserted towards the base of the axis; style filiform; stigma somewhat 3-lobed. Fruit berried, indehiscent, red, generally, in consequence of the abortion of two cells and. most of the ovula, one-seeded, marked at the top by the scar of the fallen perianth. Seed single, ascending, (only seen unripe), very smooth, transparent, oval; hilum small, above the base; foramen in the base; raphe short, raised. Testa , when young, marked with very minute areolations; albumen abundant. Embryo ……

* 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.

The Noble Family of Clive

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?

(Clivia Society Newsletter #4 of 2002)

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