Paphiopedilum Lady Isobel: hybrid history


 Note: The name of this hybrid has been updated to Paphiopedilum Lady Isobel in the orchid hybrid registry. I am leaving the old spelling, “Lady Isabel”, in this post, but read on to find out how and why the name was corrected.

Paphiopedilum Lady Isabel is a fantastic old lady’s slipper hybrid, a cross of two of the largest species in the genus.  Its parents, Paphiopedilum rothschildianum and P. stonei (photo 3 here) are both narrow endemics found in the wild only on Borneo.  P. rothschildianum grows at a couple of sites on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu, while P. stonei inhabits limestone cliffs near Kuching in southwest Sarawak.  Given their physical similarity and natural habitat, it seems likely that the two species shared a common ancestor in the not too distant past, and P. Lady Isabel can be thought of as reuniting two divergent genetic lineages.

I generally prefer to grow orchid species, rather than hybrids, because I find that a good bit of the fun of this hobby lies in learning about the origins of the plants, their ecology and evolutionary history.  Those details are lost in complex hybrids that mix highly divergent species and are consciously designed for floral display rather than adapted to a distinct habitat and pollinator.  However, the human history associated with some old hybrids can substitute for natural history, and primary hybrids like P. Lady Isabel retain enough features of the original species to make them interesting to me.

When investigating the history of a hybrid orchid, my first stop is always the website of the Royal Horticultural Society, the current custodian of the orchid hybrid register (“Sander’s List”). The online International Orchid Register tells me that the cross of P. rothschildianum x P. stonei was registered as Lady Isabel by someone named “Statter” in 1897.  That date alone is impressive.  P. stonei was introduced into cultivation in 1860, but P. rothschildianum not until 1887 [1].  That means that Mr. Statter managed to bloom a cross of these two notoriously slow growing species just ten years after one of the parents first reached England. Lewis Knudson didn’t publish his method for asymbiotic germination of orchid seed on sterile agar until 1921, so at the time P. Lady Isabel was registered, producing new orchid hybrids was a matter of sprinkling seed at the base of a parent plant and hoping that the correct symbiotic fungus was present in the potting mix.  Seedling yields were not high.

Searching on Google reveals that “Statter” was Thomas Statter, Esq., who lived at Stand Hall near Manchester.  His extensive collection of orchids was featured in the October 1894 issue of Orchid Review [2], and both P. rothschildianum and P. stonei are mentioned in the article under the earlier genus name Cypripedium.  Statter’s father, also named Thomas, was also an orchid enthusiast, and the name Thomas Statter appears numerous times in issues of The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Orchid Review from the late 1800s. (As an aside, isn’t it fantastic that we can search and read gardening magazines from the 1800s online?)

Sadly, it seems that Statter fell on hard times a few years later, and the April 29, 1905 issue of the Llandudno Advertiser reported on bankruptcy proceedings.  Orchids are mentioned as part of his remaining assets.

What the RHS database doesn’t tell me is the meaning of the name “Lady Isabel.”  Perhaps the hybrid is named after some flower of the late Victorian aristocracy, but who?  One possibility is Lady Isobel Stanley, daughter of the 16th Earl of Derby and one of the first women to play ice hockey.   Thomas Statter the elder and his father Robert Statter were land agents for the Earls of Derby, so there is a connection between the Statters and Stanleys.  Statter had previously registered Paphiopedilum Lord Derby in 1895, so it is plausible that he would name a plant after a female member of the family.  Cattleya Countess of Derby was registered by a different orchid grower in 1896, suggesting that the family had some connection to orchids and horticulture during the late 1800s. If the orchid was named for Lady Isobel, it seems that a spelling error has crept into the Orchid Register, but I found one early reference (possibly the earliest, judging by the September 1897 date) in the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society [3] which renders the hybrid name as “Lady Isobel”.

Update 8/28/2019: 

I emailed Julian Shaw, the current Orchid Registrar at RHS, to ask if he had any insight into my hypothesis about the naming of P. Lady Isabel.  He replied that after some additional research, he has concluded that the plant was indeed named after Lady Isobel Stanley and has changed the spelling to “Lady Isobel” in the hybrid register.

Among other things, he told me that Thomas Statter was a member of the RHS Orchid Committee starting in 1895.  That presumably affects the reliability of the 1897 reference to “Lady Isobel” that I noted above [3], because it occurred in the notes of the Orchid Committee.

One final note: that Orchid Review column from 1894 also mentions that the collections of both Thomas Statters were cared for by a Mr. Robert Johnson.  I wonder how much of the credit for P. Lady Isobel should go to him, rather than Thos. Statter.  A number of other gardeners are well known in orchid history and were recognized by their contemporaries.  If we look back at the parents of Paphiopedilum Lady Isobel, we see that P. rothschildianum was named after Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild–banker, politician, art collector, and horticulturalist–one of the wealthiest and most influential men in Victorian England.  But P. stonei was named after Robert Stone, who was the gardener of the orchid enthusiast John Day.


1. Hennessy, E.F. and Hedge, T.A. (1989) The Slipper Orchids, Acorn Books, Randburg, R.S.A.

2. anonymous (1894). The Stand Hall Collection.  The Orchid Review  11(22): 291-293.

3.  Veitch, H.J., Chair (1897).  Orchid Committee, September 7, 1897.  Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society 21: clxxxii.

The same plant in June 2021

Six on Saturday #47 (August 24, 2019)

The first two plants in this Six on Saturday post bloomed in early August, after S.O.S #46, but I thought they were worth including even though they aren’t flowering today.  The remaining four plants are currently in bloom.

1. Rhododendron prunifolium (plum-leaf azalea)


Rhododendron prunifolium is one of the latest-blooming of the North American deciduous azaleas. With its flowers tucked in among leaves, I think it looks more subdued and elegant than the flamboyant species that bloom on bare branches early in the spring.  Very rare in the wild, it is native only to a small region of Alabama and Georgia along the Chattahoochee River.

2. Lycoris x rosea ‘Neon Nights’


This cross of Lycoris radiata and L. sprengeri blooms at about the same time as my L. radiata var. pumila plants.  The photo doesn’t exaggerate the intensity of its color.

3. Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed)

Asclepias incarnata-2

Despite its common name, Asclepias incarnata grows reasonably well in regular garden soil.  It doesn’t seem to be as long-lived as Asclepias tuberosa, though.  This is probably a third-generation seedling, and the first generation of plants that I grew are all long dead.

4. Gentiana andrewsii (closed bottle gentian)


Gentiana andrewsii is one of the more bizarre flowers in my garden.  It is native to the northeastern and midwestern states and Canada but seems to do reasonably well in the NC piedmont.  The flower never opens and is pollinated by bees that are strong enough to force their way inside.  If I don’t do some weeding soon, these plants will be choked out by invasive Duchesnea indica (mock strawberry) that are invading the flower bed from a nearby lawn*

*lawn, meaning green weeds that can survive being mowed.

5. Barnadia japonica (Japanese squill)


I really don’t remember planting this little bulb among the cactus and agaves that surround our wellhead.  I do have a small clump of bulbs elsewhere in the garden, so I wonder if a squirrel transplanted this one.

6. Calanthe reflexa


Well, this was a disappointment.  Calanthe reflexa has miniscule flowers, and the color of this clone is an insipid pale violet. About the only thing that makes it worthy of growing is its blooming season–months after all the other hardy Calanthe species and hybrids have finished flowering.

The Propagator is the host of Six on Saturday.  Head over there to see his Six and find links to the blogs of other participants.

Trichoglottis luzonensis


I stopped by The Orchid Trail this week to see what was new.  The thing about orchids is there’s always something new.  After 26 years of growing orchids, I still can be fairly sure of seeing a plant I’ve never seen before whenever I visit a decent nursery.  Often, it’s a plant I’ve never even heard of before.  This week it was Trichoglottis luzonensis.


Trichoglottis is a genus of about 85 species from tropical Asia and Oceania.  T. luzonensis, as suggested by its species epithet, comes from the island of Luzon in the Philippines. The genus name means “hairy tongue” and refers to the hairs covering the tongue-like labellum of some species.  This feature is easy to see in T. luzonensis and in T. atropurpurea, the other Trichoglottis species in my collection (See item 6 in Six on Saturday #9).  T. atropurpurea has short, leathery leaves on a vining stem and produces a single flower bud at each leaf axil.  In contrast, T. luzonensis has longer leaves and an inflorescence with many flowers, rather like a Vanda.  Perhaps the difference is flowering habit is why it has sometimes been segregated into the genus Staurochilus–which is how I found it labeled at the Orchid Trail.


The plant at the Orchid Trail had some minor sunburn on its upper leaves, but that damage is just cosmetic.  The price was very reasonable and the flowers very appealing, so it came home with me.  It will reside in my shade house until autumn, and then I’ll hang it high in the greenhouse–though in view of the sunburn, it will go in the end of greenhouse that is covered with shade cloth.

Six on Saturday #46 (August 3, 2019)

It has been more than two months since I managed to get a Six on Saturday post together, so this is a catch-up post:  six plants that have bloomed since S.O.S. #45.

1. Bletilla Yokohama ‘Kate’  (Flowered in late May)


As I previously posted, Bletilla species and hybrids are among the easiest of terrestrial orchids to grow.  B. Yokohama is a hybrid of B. striata and B. formosana, and it blooms about a month after B. striata in my garden.  The habitat of B. formosana in Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands is subtropical, probably trending towards tropical, but B. Yokohama is fully hardy in my garden during the winter.  The new growth is tender, like that of B. striata, and must be protected from late frosts in spring.  The flowers have better form than those of B. striata, and the inflorescences are daintier.

2. Gardenia jasminoides (Hardy gardenia; flowered in early to mid June)


This evergreen shrub, with its fantastic fragrance, is a perennial favorite in southern gardens.  I have two different single-flowered clones which are efficiently cross-pollinated, presumably by moths, and produce lots of attractive red fruit in autumn.  Birds spread the seeds around, and I have started to find volunteer seedlings–a nice bonus that you won’t get if you grow the sterile double-flowered clones.

My plants were badly damaged by cold during the winter of 2017/2018, but they sprouted vigorously from their trimmed stumps, and it is hard now to see where they were cut.

2. Hippeastrum ‘Mead Strain’ (Garden Amaryllis; flowered in early June)

Hippeastrum Meads_strain

This Hippeastrum hybrid is the product of crosses made by Theodore Mead about 100 years ago.  Its background appears to include a large percentage of genes of the Bolivian species Hippeastrum vittatum, and similar hybrids often masquerade as that species in cultivation.  Bulbs of the Mead Strain are common heirloom plants in southern gardens, and a very similar clone is passed around by gardeners in my parent’s neighborhood in Texas.

4.  Lobelia laxiflora subsp. laxiflora ‘Candy Corn’ (Flowers intermittently all summer)

Lobelia Candy_Corng2
This Mexican Lobelia species is much more drought tolerant than our native L. cardinalis, so I grow it in a hot,sandy bed beside the driveway.  Its bloom season overlaps with that of L. cardinalis (see photo #3 here), and both species are visited by hummingbirds, but I haven’t found any volunteer hybrids yet.  I live in hope.

Lovelia Candy_Corn

5. Eucomis cf. zambesiaca (Pineapple lily; flowered in July)


All of the Eucomis species and hybrids from southern Africa seem to be hardy in North Carolina, but many of them scorch and wilt in hot sun.  They require bright light to grow well, so this heat sensitivity creates a cultural conundrum.  This small variety sold as Eucomis autumnalis by the big bulb vendors is the most resistant to wilting of all the Eucomis that I have grown.  It looks very little like a true E. autumnalis that I bought from a specialist nursery, and I am fairly sure that it is actually E. zambesiaca, possibly the clone ‘White Dwarf.’

6.  Iris domestica (Blackberry lily; Currently flowering)

Iris Hello_Yellow
Iris domestica ‘Hello Yellow’

Iris domestica (formerly Belamcanda chinensis) is an old garden favorite, but most of the nurseries around here sell the newer all-yellow clones like ‘Hello Yellow.’  I really wanted the old fashioned wild-type orange form, too, and about two years ago I found a few plants growing wild along a power line cut.  I collected seed, and the resulting seedlings started flowering this summer, about 18 months after germination.


The Propagator is the host of Six on Saturday.  Head over there to see his Six and find links to the blogs of other participants.