The LuEsther T. Mertz Library


Holidays are a vital part of the floral industry. Today’s consumer may choose from a variety of familiar plants that are widely available and often given as gifts or used for indoor decoration throughout the winter season.

Originally, poinsettias flowered after the holidays because blooming was tied to a photoperiod that required long nights. Later, horticulturists controlled flowering time to coincide with the holiday season by regulating the night length. With recent advances in breeding, there are plants that now flower in time for holiday sale.

Although its parent species were first described in 1818, the Brazilian plant we call the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi), is a hybrid between S. russelliana and S. truncata produced by William Buckley at the Rollisson Nurseries in England in 1852.

The variety of cyclamen commonly found in florist’s shops derives from C. persicum, a native of southeastern Turkey and the Levant region. Known since Greek and Roman times, it is often likened to a bunch of butterflies frozen in flight.

Concern over the destructive exploitation of natural stands of native Ilex for seasonal greenery led to the founding in 1947 of the Holly Society of America. Native stands of holly grow as far north as Fire Island.

"Cyclaminos Italica Rotundifolia"
Crispijn van de Passe the Younger
from Crispijn van de Passe the Younger (c.1597-1670)
Hortus floridus
Arnhem: Joannem Janssonium, 1614-1617
The commercially available cyclamen varieties are known as florist’s cyclamen, distinguishing them from their miniature, wild, scented cousins. Available in a rainbow of colors and shapes such as fringed, crested, frilled and double-flowered cyclamen add a festive note to holiday celebrations. Published by Crispijn when he was just seventeen years old, these engravings are the first to depict plants from a ground level vantage-point.
"Viscum quercinus"

Elizabeth Blackwell
Hand-colored engraving
from Elizabeth Blackwell (c.1700-1758)
Herbarium Blackwellianum emendatum et auctum…
Nuremberg: Typis Christiani de Lavnoy, 1754-1773.

Long celebrated for its magical powers, mistletoe was important in the winter solstice celebrations of the Druids. The kissing ball is a more recent custom imported from England in the nineteenth century. But beware, all parts of the plant are poisonous.

Elizabeth Blackwell published A Curious Herbal, in order to raise funds to free her husband from debtors’ prison. Its popularity was such that it was later reissued in the enlarged version seen here.

"Epiphýllum russelliànum"
Samuel Holden
Hand-colored lithograph
from Sir Joseph Paxton (1803-1865)
Paxton's magazine of botany, and register of flowering plants
London: Orr and Smith, 1843
The genus Schlumbergera, to which the winter flowering Christmas cactus belongs, has been extensively hybridized to produce a range of flower colors.
Sir Joseph Paxton created one of the most famous gardens in Europe on the Duke of Devonshire’s estate, Chatsworth. His Magazine of Botany featured many exotic plants he had grown there.
"Poinsettia Pulcherrima. Showy Poinsettia"
William Jackson Hooker
Hand-colored engraving
from Samuel Curtis (1799-1860)
Curtis's botanical magazine, or, Flower-garden displayed
London: Printed by Stephen Couchman for W. Curtis, 1836.
Poinsettia is the best selling potted plant in America during the holiday season. The flowers are inconspicuous, but the bracts below them form the showy, colored part of the plant. It can grow up to ten feet tall in the wild and despite its reputation, is not poisonous.
William Curtis began publishing the first English language botanical journal in 1787. Renowned for its exceptional color illustrations, it remains the oldest in continuous publication.
[Cyclamen varieties]
from Joseph Kratz (fl. 1861)
Tubingen: H. Laupp'schen Buchhandlung, 1861
The favorite greenhouse cyclamen flowering in the winter months, are varieties of Cyclamen Persicum. These florists’ cyclamen are larger and lack the twisting shape and fragrance of their wild counterparts. Major advances were made in cyclamen breeding by German growers such as Joseph Kratz. Early breeders extended the range of colors and increased flower size.

[Florists advertisments]
American florist
(November 15, 1888 and December 15, 1889)
Chicago: American Florist Co., 1885–1931
Of major importance to the floral industry was the appearance of a specialized trade press. A news sheet started during the first convention of the Society of American Florists expanded to become The American Florist in 1885. Not only did the trade press aid in obtaining and selling seeds, bulbs, cut flowers and nursery stock but it also informed readers of new design trends and gave practical how-to information.


               Water color on paper by  Anne Ophelia Dowden (1907 - )

                 [ Holiday arrangement ]                               "Holly, Ivy"                 "European Mistletoe"


"Amaryllis Johnsonii"
 Priscilla Susan Falkner Bury
Aquatint printed in color, finished by hand
from Priscilla Susan Falkner Bury (1793-1869)
A selection of hexandrian plants, belonging to the natural orders Amaryllidae and Liliacae

London: R. Havell, 1831–1834 The easy to grow amaryllis bulb blooms during the winter season, adding a brilliant touch of color to the winter doldrums. A native of the Andean region of Chile and Peru, it was discovered in 1828. The name comes from the Greek word meaning sparkling.
In the preface for this work, the amateur artist Mrs. Bury modestly admits that she has "no pretensions whatever" to scientific knowledge. She intended this as an "endeavour to preserve some memorial of the brilliant and fugitive beauties of a particularly splendid and elegant tribe of plants". The hexandrian plants (those with six stamens) include lilies, crinums, pancratiums and hippeastrums.
As with so many of the greatest botanical folios, a large part of their success lies in the skill with which their illustrations were engraved and printed. In addition to working on the plates for this work, her collaborator, Robert Havel was concurrently preparing the plates for Audubon’s much acclaimed Birds of America.
The subscriber’s list for this enormous folio comprises only 79 names, mostly from the Lancashire region. Mrs. Bury was a Liverpool native and wife of the noted railway engineer Edward Bury (1794-1858). Audubon himself is also listed among the subscribers.
"Euphorbia pulcherrima"
Madame Berthe Hoola van Nooten.
from Berthe Hoola van Nooten (1840-1885)
Fleurs, fruits et feuillages choisis de l'ile de Java
Brussels: C. Muquardt, 3rd edition [1880]
Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851) was the first American ambassador to Mexico in 1825. He took cuttings from a beautiful shrub, the Euphorbia pulcherrima, he found growing by the side of the road in southern Mexico. He brought them back to his hothouses in South Carolina where he began propagating the plant sending it to friends and botanical gardens. As the plant became more popular, William Prescott, a historian and horticulturist, was asked to give it a common name. The poinsettia was named in honor of Joel Poinsett’s discovery.
The Aztecs called poinsettias "Cuetlaxochitl" and used their sap to treat fevers and their bracts (modified leaves) to make a textile and cosmetic dye. The German botanist Willdenow assigned their botanical name (Euphorbia pulcherrima). The species name pulcherrima means "the most beautiful".
The plates were printed in Belgium after Bertha Van Nooten’s original paintings that she executed while living in Jakarta. She followed her husband to Java and was left as sole supporter of their family upon his untimely death. She used her flower painting skills to support her family. Although little else is known about Van Nooten’s life, there can be no doubt that she was a competent artist who depicted the native flora of Indonesia with vivid color, great precision and a touch of Baroque exuberance.
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