Lady Hooker and Mr. Stone

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Paphiopedilum hookerae

Currently blooming in my greenhouse: two slipper orchids from Borneo whose specific epithets are closely tied to the world of Victorian botany and horticulture.

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P. hookerae foliage

Paphiopedilum hookerae is noted for the striking beauty of its tessellated foliage and extremely long inflorescence bearing a single glossy flower in rich purple and cool green. Scientific names that end in “ae” often commemorate women, and in this case the woman was Maria Hooker (née Turner).  As far as I can tell, Lady Hooker was not noted for direct botanical contributions, but she was the daughter, wife, and mother of botanists.  Her husband, Sir William Jackson Hooker was Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew from 1841 until his death in 1865, two years after P. hookerae was described.  Her son, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, was a close friend of Charles Darwin.  He served on HMS Erebus during the Ross expedition to Antarctica, collected plants in the Himalayas and western United States, and succeeded his father as Director of RBG Kew in 1865.

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Paphiopedilum stonei.  Sadly, by the time the third bud finished opening, these flowers had been disfigured by an infestation of aphids

Paphiopedilum stonei is a much larger species than P. hookerae.  It has unmarked leaves that can be up to 2 feet long, and an inflorescence bearing 3-5 large flowers with strap-like petals.  P. stonei is notoriously slow-growing and it is one of the Paphiopedilum species that never seem to show their best in photographs.  In life, the flowers are impressive and elegant, while in pictures they often appear awkward and a little grotesque.

P. stonei was described by William Jackson Hooker, and he named it in honor of a gardener–but not just any gardener.  Robert Stone was the gardener who maintained the collection of John Day, an orchid enthusiast most famous for his thousands of paintings illustrating orchid species.  John Day owned the first plants of P. stonei imported into England, and those plants, cared for by Robert Stone, served as the basis for the species description published by Hooker in 1862.

In addition to its own considerable horticultural merits, P. stonei is noteworthy as a parent of the beautiful hybrid Paphiopedilum Lady Isobel, whose name and history I have previously discussed.

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