SweetIt’s really too early in the year for a blog on this topic: galanthophilia is in full swing around the country. But we have just received the first copy of Sweet’s Hortus Britannicus, Or, a Catalogue of Plants, Indigenous, or Cultivated in the Gardens of Great Britain, Arranged According to their Natural Orders (second, revised edition, 1830), which contains an amazing snapshot of Regency tulip hybridising. Not a thing one usually spends much time thinking about, but bear with me…The first career of Robert Sweet (1783–1835) was as a gardener in private employment and as a nurseryman. He turned in 1826 to botanical writing, having already published Hortus suburbanus Londinensis (1818), and the first of the five-volume Geraniaceae (1820–30), among other reference works. Sweet uses Jussieu’s ‘natural’ system of classification, but concedes that ‘we still consider the addition of the Linnaean classes and orders, of great use, as they are so readily attained by the young Botanist’. He provides nine two-column closely packed pages of source works (including his own) in which images of the plants cited in this unillustrated work can be found, and which also testify to the breadth of his own research in producing a reference work which is comprehensive as a record of plants then growing and flowering in British gardens.

On page 536, he gets to ‘Ordo CCXVI, Tulipaceae’, under which are listed first 22 species of yucca, and then 22 species of tulip, with their dates of introduction to Britain, where known. They include the still-familiar: saxatilis (1827, from Crete), tricolor (1823), Clusiana (1636, Sicily), praecox (1825, Naples); and the less so: altaica (1822, Altai mountains), Biebersteiniana (1820, Siberia) … What is remarkable is the influx of new species in the 1820s – is this because of the opening up of the Mediterranean (and beyond) after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the energetic efforts initiated by Sir Joseph Banks and others to obtain species from sailors and other travellers, swaps among European botanists, plant finders sent out by nurserymen (like the Veitches, a bit later) or wealthy enthusiasts? Probably a mixture of all of the above?

But it is the list of Gesneriana hybrids which is fascinating: there are 51, labelled from alpha to 3 omegas, and the names are a social and political history in themselves. I make no apology for listing them (with occasional comments).  The Gesneriana, by the way, from the ‘Levant’, had been known since 1577, and was the tulip of the Dutch ‘tulip fever’. The feathering in the petals is caused by a virus which eventually weakens and kills the plant. There are images of almost all the flowers in Sweet’s Florist’s Guide and Cultivator’s Directory (1827–9), which has colour plates: copies of the original book change hands for serious money. The images below are taken from the wonderful Old Tulips website, where all of them are, sadly, classed as ‘extinct’.

1. coccinea (from Constantinople, 1816)

2. versicolor (‘Levant’ again, no date)

3. Semploniensis (named from the Simplon Pass (‘the mountain that Buonaparte marched over in the passage’)

4. Alexandrina (Princess, later Queen, Victoria‘s first name)



Lord Collingwood

Lord Collingwood










5. Burnard’s Agitator (the grower J.P. Burnard, of Formosa Cottage, Holloway, also produced Rose Juno and Rose Daphne, below)

6. Lord Collingwood (Nelson’s deputy at Trafalgar, who announced his death to the Lords of the Admiralty

7. Prince Leopold (husband of Princess Charlotte, King of the Belgians, beloved uncle and adviser of Victoria and Albert)

Prince Leopold

Prince Leopold

George the Fourth

George the Fourth










8. George the Fourth (who died the year this edition was published)

9. Platonia (after Plato, presumably?)

10. Emperor of Austria (Francis I, our ally against the French)

11. Don Miguel (the authoritarian absolutist brother in the Portuguese civil war, as opposed to Don Pedro, the progressive constitutionalist who eventually won)

Don Miguel

Don Miguel

Lawrence's Polyphemus

Lawrence’s Polyphemus










12. Lawrence’s Polyphemus (other mythological characters below)

13. Bataille d’Eyleau (or Eylau: an inconclusive but bloody battle in East Prussia between the French and the Russians, February 1807)

14. Sir George Duckett (Judge Advocate to the Fleet, supporter of Captain Cook, who named Port Jackson after him (he added Duckett to his name to inherit a fortune)

Sir George Duckett

Sir George Duckett












15. Strong’s Canning (politician, foreign secretary, prime minister (briefly) in 1827)

16. Strong’s King (presumably George IV again?)

17. Titian (colours self-explanatory)

18. Rose Juno

19. Rose Daphne

20. Walworth (James Maddock and Samuel Curtis ran a nursery in Walworth, south London)




Bartlett's Thunderbolt

Bartlett’s Thunderbolt










21. Bartlett’s Thunderbolt (Bartlett was presumably another nurseryman or breeder)

22. Lord Hill (probably the general who succeeded Wellington as commander-in-chief of the army?)

23. Rose brillante

24. Sherwood’s Lady Crewe (famous beauty and political hostess, muse of Sheridan, patron of Ignatius Sancho)

25. Princess Victoria (see Alexandrina)

26. Strong’s High Admiral (W. Strong had a tulip collection at Albion Cottage, Brook Green, west London)

27. Pucelle d’Orleans (aka Joan of Arc)

Pucelle d'Orleans

Pucelle d’Orleans

Strong's Duchess of Kent

Strong’s Duchess of Kent










28. Strong’s Duchess of Kent (Princess Victoria’s mother)

29. Rose camusa de craix (quite a lot of French names in this list, suggesting that bulbs were being obtained from breeders in France)

30. Strong’s Rainbow

31. Lord Holland (ubiquitous politician and man of letters)

32. Louis XVI (he and Buonaparte (below) would have made interesting bed-fellows, ho ho)

Louis XVI

Louis XVI












33. Lancashire Hero (possibly bred by one Buckley in Lancashire? The is also an auricula ‘Lancashire Hero’

34. Davey’s Trafalgar (needs no comment: Davey was another famous breeder)

35. Penelope (perhaps a Lawrence flower, like Polyphemus and Aglaia?)

36. Goldham’s Earl of Liverpool (prime minister 1812–27)

37. Willmer’s Duke of York (army commander, second son of George III, the same ‘grand old duke of York’ who had 10,000 men)

38. Buonaparte (see Louis XVI above)

39. Grande [sic] Monarque

Grande Monarque

Grande Monarque












40. Lampson (grown by Messrs Brown at Slough)

41. Aglaia (another Greek mythological one by Lawrence)

42. Violet Alexander (possibly French: Alexandre, elsewhere)

43. Lady of the Lake (must be something to do with Sir Walter Scott!)

Lady of the Lake

Lady of the Lake












44. Winefred (anything to do with the saint and well?)

45. Daveyana ( a commercial breeder: see Trafalgar above and Majestuese below)

46. Goldham’s Maria (J. Goldham, Esq., of White Cottage, raised this from seed)

47. Majestueuse (its price in Davey’s catalogue was 8 shillings, marked ‘superfine’)

48. Gloria alborum

49. Princess Charlotte’s Cenotaph ( a clever, if not cynical, piece of nomenclature!)

Princess Charlotte's Cenotaph

Princess Charlotte’s Cenotaph












50. Gesneriana double-flowered (Levant, 1577)

51. Parrot (not clear if this is any relation to the familiar parrot tulips of today)

I could have spent hours and hours tracing all these tulips through the wonderful source that is the Gardener’s Magazine in its various online manifestations, but I may have tried my readers’ patience too much already…



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1 Response to Tulipomania

  1. Pingback: Plant of the Month: March | Professor Hedgehog's Journal

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