Flowers That Cost Thousands

R.C.D. IN NEW YORK POST May 1 1906

Flowers That Cost Thousands

R.C.D. IN NEW YORK POST May 1 1906

Flowers That Cost Thousands


Thousands of dollars are paid by flower fanciers for rare species. Orchids, carnations, dahlias and tulips are flowers for which extraordinary prices are paid. To-day the orchid is the most sought after flower, and for the time being the chrysanthemum is dethroned.

FROM the point of view of a very small class, that class devoted to orchid growing, the most important result of the British Government's late mission to Tibet was the rediscovery of the Fairie lady slipper orchid, which has been lost for 50 years. The Fairie lady slipper is not only a beautiful flower in itself, but it is a famous parent, having produced some of the most remarkable hybrids known to orchid fanciers. The specimens brought from Tibet were rushed to auction rooms and sold like

so many diamonds. Plants of two or three years' growth were eagerly purchased for $300 to $500. Perhaps the bidding would not have been quite so keen if the buyers had known that another consignment of the precious flowers was on its way to England, but they did not know it, and preferred to run no risks. The plants can be had now for as low as $25.

Five hundred dollars is not a high price to pay for a choice or rare orchid, if you want it badly enough. A

cattelya shown several years ago at a Paris horticultural exhibition, had a light violet blue corolla instead of the violet lose corolla of its kind, and this detail raised the price of the plant to 12,000 francs. The owner did not reap a tremendous profit after all, for he had spent much money for it, and had risked his life to get it out of the Venezuelan forest where it blossomed.

Mr. Sanders, of St. Albans, England, gave $6,000 for a new specimen of the Odontoglossum crispum pittranuni, not many weeks ago, and seemed to consider that he had a bargain. The orchid, with the long name, is described as an exquisite thing, white, with a faint rose tinge, the petals heavily blotched with red and brown, and the reverse side purple. Other specimens of the same orchid have brought $1,000, but this one was declared to be the most perfect ever exhibited. Five other rare orchids brought the sum of $11,000 at the same auction.

For all these extravagant prices, growers declare that there is. little profit in orchids, except in the commoner varieties, the cattelya and laelias affected by fashion. These sell in the flower stores all the way from thirty-five cents to a dollar a blossom, and plants may be had from $2 upwards.

It is extremely difficult to raise any except those everyday orchids. The rare varieties are evasive to the last degree, and their production is attended with all kinds of unexpected complications. The seedlings require years of care. In the first place the seeds of orchids are like fairy dust, so tiny that they can be seen only under a strong glass. iThe invisible seeds are planted in chopped moss or bark, and they have to be transplant-

ed before they are large enough to be seen except under the glass. Out of a thousand seedlings the grower is lucky if he saves a few dozen plants. Even the common varieties are none too common, so great is the waste of seeds. The orchid does absolutely nothing towards perpetuating itself except to live and bloom as attractively as it knows how. It depends on wandering insects and birds to carry its pollen. Everybody’s business is nobody’s business, and the pollen nine times in ten is not carried, or is lost. Of every thousand orchid flowers a very small proportion ever seed. Of course the growers have been able to overcome part of this difficulty, but they are at a loss most of the time to produce the rarer flowers. Yet the craze, probably on this very account, is growing year by year.

The carnation is another flower for which fancy prices are obtained. Every one remembers the Lawson pink, for which $30,000 was paid. Now comes word of a newly discovered white carnation, which promises to eclipse that celebrated blossom. In the annual Spring show of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, just closed at New Bedford, H. A. Jahn, a local grower, exhibited a white carnation, which as yet bears only a number, but will soon, no doubt, be christened. The flower was exhibited as No. 49, was perfectly snow white in color, and the largest specimens measured four inches across. The largest of the Lawson pinks were a little more than three inches.

Mr. Jahn does not know how he did it, but has been making experiments in propogating carnations for some time. The parents of the new flower were splendid specimens with lineage going back to the Wil-

liam the Conqueror of carnations. Jhey were fragrant pinks, and the new flower possesses this last requisite to perfection, although most large carnations are lacking in perfume.* Mr. Jahn indignantly refused an offer of $8,000 for his pink, and, of course, it is worth a great deal more than that. We shall doubtless hear of its purchase for some fabulous sum by one or another of the billionaires.

The carnation—flower of Jove— — has always had its admirers. It was a fashionable flower in old Greece and Rome, and probably was expensive, if any flowers were expensive in those days. The reason of its popularity, even in ancient days lay in its tendency to “sport” or vary. The flower was small and intensely fragrant, originally, and the edges were deeply fringed. As for its color, no one ever knew what a plant was going to ido, and the uncertainty gave it value. All through the middle ages it was cultivated, and in France, during the sixteenth century, there was a veritable craze for it. In 1750 growers began to breed off the fringes “from the petals of carnations and to try for a larger and more rose-like blossom. Now we have flowers with edges almost smooth, and a very full calyx.

For a time it looked as if the dahlia were going to be another flower for the horticulturists to lose their heads over. The dahlia, like the chrysanthemum, is a work of art, rather than of nature. It has evolved to its present perfection of size and color from an insignificant little spiny object, valued chiefly for its rarity and its tendency to variation. In 1784 the director of the botanical gardens in the City of Mexico sent his friend, the director

of the botanical gardens in Madrid, a; curious orange-red flower set aiound an orange-yellow centre. The flower consisted of a single row of spiny petals, very stiff and unflowerlike, but rich in color. The Madrid director adopted the flower, calling it dahlia, after Dahl, a Swedish botanist. Specimens of the plant reached Germany soon afterwards, and whoever got hold of it there called it georgina, not after any King George, but in honor of a Russian named Georgi. Until recently the flower has been called georgina in Germany.

Of course, these stories irresistibly recall the historic tulip craze which swayed the Netherlands in the seventeenth century. That madness, often alluded to, is yet little understood nowadays. The story of the tulip mania, is, in brief, this: A certain Dr. Clusius settled in Leyden earkr in the Century and occupied himself with the innocent amusement of a garden. He had brought with him from Germany a number of bulbs which the climate of Holland was remarkably favorable to, and the garden of Dr. Clusius became famous in a single season for its tulips. Ail the flower lovers in Leyden, and later many growers from other cities flocked to the place to admire the new flowers. The proud possessor was an obstinate man, and steadily refused all offers to sell a single bulb. It is said that he refused an offer of $35 for a bouquet of blossoms.

The reward of his selfishness was swift. He awoke one morning to find his garden looted of every tulip. In the night some of the neighbors had climbed the wall and took what they had been unable to get by legitimate means. The old man was heart-broken. ¡Nor did he

ever enjoy his revenge, for by this time people began to import bulbs from Germany, and when tulips began to blossom all over Leyden next Spiing, it was impossible to tell which had been stolen and which imported.

The cultivation of tulips now became the fashion. To produce a new variety of tulip became a veritable passion. The tulip is one of the most variable of plants. The bulb, formed almost like an onion, possesses 'in every ring a possibility of a complete change of form and color. In fact it is bound to “break” as the florists express it, and the break may come in a year or twenty years. The rarest varieties sometimes evolve from quite common stock.

The tulips of Holland (became more famous than any flower of any country. To present a lady with a bouquet of Dutch tulips was the most extravagant expression of devotion possible. Extravagant in a double sense, possibly, for the flowers were often sent by special couriers at great expense to the sender.

The prices paid for choice specimens were beyond reason. Considering the purchasing power of money at the time, seven thousand florins for a single bulb seems incredible. Yet that sum was paid for a fine specimen of Semper Augustus. This tulip is described as pure white with red, ribbon-like stripes, and on the tips of the petals a suggestion of delicate blue. The story of a sailor who ate a bulb of this wonderful variety is familiar. The unhappy man mistook the bulb, worth $1,500, for an onion, and ate it with a herring for his luncheon. He was mobbed by the crowd to which the frenzied purchaser confided his loss, was beaten and put in prison.

Another fine tulip was given as a dowry, and a sufficient one, to the daughter of the grower. The tulip was called “ Marriage of My Daughter.77 Was there really a black tulip? Tradition says that one was evolved at The Hague. The grower was a poor man, and when a syndicate from Amsterdam came to the garden and offered a large sum the man solid his bulb. The money paid, the bulb was deliberately destroyed under the feet of the syndicate. The tulip grower went mad.

The craze in Holland reached its height about 1634. By this time nobody wanted to do anything but speculate in tulip values. Most people had lost all interest in the flowers themselves, and the speculating fell into the hands of brokers who hardly knew a Semper Augustus from an Admiral Liefkens. It was no longer necessary to have the actual bulbs. People sold short of the market and bet on crops as wildly as wheat and corn speculators of the present day. The end came suddenly and dramatically. A number of growers, disgusted with the degeneracy into which their beloved occupation. had been sunk, combined. They threw their entire stock on the open market, and in the Black Friday of tulips thousands of men lost their fortunes. It was years before the country recovered from the disaster.

All this sounds like a fantastic tale, and might be dismissed as tradition were it not for the proof of such literature as uEvelyn7s Dairy,'7 pages from the Tati er, and other Contemporary literature. They do not merely chronicle it is plain that the enthusiasm of the Dutch was shared throughout Europe and that the wisest of men took the tulip craze with perfect seriousness.