Many a fortune has been made, and many a life lost as orchid
hunting became the vogue during the 18th and 19th centuries.
On the 9th of May 1826, the 6th Duke of Devonshire employed a new
head gardener, this man was become renowned as an inventor, founder
of several gardening magazines, and a Member of Parliament; he may
perhaps be best remembered as the creator of the Great Exhibition at
Crystal Palace London in 1851 and was given a Knighthood for his
services, Joseph Paxton.
Paxton's arrival at Chatsworth house in Derbyshire is best described
in his own words.
" I left London on the Comet Coach for Chesterfield, and arrived at
Chatsworth at 4.30a.m. on the morning of the 9th May 1826. As no
person was to be seen at that early hour, I got over the greenhouse
gate by the old covered walkway, explored the grounds and looked
around the outside of the house, then I went to the kitchen gardens,
scaled the outside wall and saw the whole of the place, set the men
to work there at 6.00a.m. returned to Chatsworth and got Thomas
Welson to play the water works to me, afterwards went to breakfast
with poor dear Mrs. Gregory and her niece.
The latter fell in love with me and I with her, and thus completed
my first mornings work at Chatsworth, before nine o'clock". He
married Sarah Brown the following January.
He introduced over eighty different species of orchids to
Chatsworth, and eventually it became the home of one of the most
extensive collections of orchids in the country.
Plant hunting was at its height in the nineteenth century, and in
1835, the Duke sent John Gibson, one of Joseph's trainees to the Far
East, to Cherrapunji in the Khasi Range of Hills under the control
of Dr. Wallich, the head of the Botanical Gardens of Callcutta.
The trip proved exceptional and he shipped back over 80 new species
of orchids eventually arriving home himself some two years later.
Both the Duke and Paxton were keen to emulate this success with
other trips, but as the Duke's finances were rather low this seemed
unlikely, However, a sum of £1600 was raised by about twenty owners
of other large estates, and some of the nations foremost nurseries,
and another trip, this time to the Canadian Rockies and Vancouver
made sail from England on the 20th March 1838.
Wallace and Banks, both Chatsworth gardeners took part in this
adventure, one could speak French and the other was a scholar of
Latin, and both had been taught some (Spanish ?) They were advised
to "beware of bears and women, both of which were hindrances to the
placid life of a plant collector".
Unfortunately they both were lost when their boat capsized on the
Paxton was extremely upset at this tragedy, and he never organised
another expedition again.
A variety of this plant was initially described by a Mr. J. J. Smith
of New Guinea in 1932, after which it was lost to cultivation as the
2nd World War raged across its habitat.
Its re-discovery was as dramatic as the name of the person
involved.... Captain Neptune Blood, whose resourcefulness and
temerity can only be admired, liberated a plant whilst in the
process of escaping from the Japanese.
Specimens of this plant could be seen for some time growing over the
Victoria amazonica pond at Kew Gardens.
How it was discovered
In 1882 one of Mr. Sanders explorers by the name of
Roebelin was despatched to the Philippines to search for new
One day, as a guest of a “savage” chieftain south east of
Mindanao, he found himself accommodated in a tree house
which was perched high in the canopy of one particularly
large tree, so as to be “well out the way of animals”.
Early in the morning whilst it was still dark he awoke to a
deep throated roaring sound and found the tree swaying
wildly, it became apparent that an earthquake had shaken the
forest, and in particular his abode, throwing all his
companions to the ground, destroying his makeshift ladder,
and leaving him isolated in the ruins of the tree house.
When dawn broke, he lay back, gazing forlornly through a
hole in the remnants of his roof, and he noticed some very
large flowers of a lilac and cinnamon colouring growing in
the very tree he had chosen as a campsite, climbing up he
identified the orchid as a new species and named it Vanda
There are many more amusing tales of orchid hunting.
For instance:- the one about the explorers who set up camp in
a remote area of the world to find one particularly rare species;
having spent several weeks searching the area without any sign of
the plant, they decided to give up and promptly broke camp, and
there, under the tent's waterproof floor destroyed beyond all hope of
recovery lay the remains of one of the plants they had sought.