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Hibiscus Around the World
Letters to J.W. Staniford 1963-67
from Ross H. Gast
La Mesa, California March 15, 1980
The letters which follow were written during our 1965 "expedition" to South Africa, the Mascarene Islands, and Madagascar.
As these letters disclose, we were able to find H. liliiflorus and what we thought was H. fragilis. Recent studies proved that the latter was, in fact, H. columnaris. We have since acquired the true H. fragilis.
As usual, Joe Staniford did an expert job as baby sitter for our project at Los Angeles County Aboretum and took good care of plant materials which we sent home to him.Hibiscusly yours,
Ross H. Gast
HIBISCUS AROUND THE WORLD
October 10, 1965
October 10, 1965 Dear Joe:
The Gast Indian Ocean Hibiscus rosa-sinensis and Allied Species Expedition arrived in London last week and is now comfortably established in a twobedroom flat at St. James Court Hotel on Buckingham Gate, just two blocks from the Palace. However, the day we moved in, the Queen moved out, to Balmoral, in Scotland - a move which we did not consider quite neighborly.
In case you get the idea that this is a real swanky address, I should tell you that here in England, we are very democratic. For instance, the Queen's Household Guards, with their 100 black horses, live closer to the Palace than we do, and from outside appearances, their stables are just as plush as our hotel. In fact, you would get about the same effect if you built stables on Wilshire Blvd. in the heart of Beverly Hills.
England has been very kind, weatherwise. We have had a week of sunny days, with no rains. We are told that this is the first good weather this year, and in all probability it will be remembered as "that fine weather we had the first week of October, 1965". Certainly we cannot remember having so many sunny days during any of our many visits here, either spring, summer, or fall.
We have spent a great deal of our time so far showing grandson Rodney around London. This is his first visit. He's13 years old, and his principal project is the making of a film to enter in the "Teen Age Film Contest" sponsored by Kodak. As he will go back around the world with us through the Pacific, he may get some good footage. He takes to photography, and has mastered his new camera.
The Madame Secretary of the Expedition is greatly disappointed over the fact there will be no major dog shows during our stay in England. She is drowning her sorrows in a shopping spree.
Now for some hibiscus talk:
As you know, I planned to visit Kew Gardens, for two reasons-first, to check on the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis varieties in their collection, and second, to call on Dr. Seeley, Curator of the Herbarium, and ask his permission to study Herbarium specimens of H. storckii, H. liliiflorus, H. cameronii and H. denisonii. Also, I wanted to see, if possible, specimens of the several species I had hoped to find on Madagascar and Mauritius. However, at the Herbarium, my main objective was to see its original specimen of H. storckii, collected in Fiji in 1865 by Seemann, and sent to that Kew. This I was able to do.
My reasons for wanting to see H. storckii have been covered freely in my letters to you from Fiji, and our later experiences with materials which I sent back, particularly a plant with the same leaf characteristics as H. denisonii, and a similar or closely similar flower description. This led me to believe that H. denisonii and H. storckii are synonomous, so I sent a specimen of this to Kew several months ago for comparison with Dr. Seemann's specimen of H.i. I was advised that they were not the same, but in the same report, Kew officials state that "We have no material on H. denisonii available for study here". This was a great surprise and disappointment to me, for I had seen and photographed H. denisonii at Kew several years ago.
Later, through L. Maurice Mason, I secured a scion of this Kew H. dinisonii stock, and as you know, we have bloomed it, and used it widely in our crossings the past years. We have also grown this species from seed furnished by Dr. Tachibana of the Osaka Botanic Garden. Apparently the Kew Herbarium does not know what is growing in their own greenhouses. So I wanted to see Dr. Seemann's material and make my own comparison. I brought with me a specimen of our H. denisonii, which is, as I said above, the same as that grown at Kew.
In spite of the fact that Seemann had collected the material just a hundred years ago, the specimen was in good shape, except that the flower color was not distinguishable. His line drawings of the flower form, the seed capsule etc. were on this sheet, as were his original notes. This gave some additional information not found in his "Flora Vitiensis". For instance, it noted that the "petals are pink, with purple at base". Our denisonii also has a touch of purple at the base. The Seemann specimen had five bracts and 9 stipules, as does ours. And while there is a slight difference in leaf, you and I know from experience that leaf character of any one species of hibiscus varies greatly under different methods of culture, so I do not place too much importance on leaf description in species determination.
All in all, I would not want to say, after examining the Seemann H. storckii specimen, that H. denisonii and H. storckii are synonymous, but I am convinced that they are very close. In fact, I could say that like the H. rosasinensis, H. arnottianus and H. kokio, H. storckii (H. denisonii) is a polymorphic species, appearing in several different forms. As you recall, Ken Perks, of Suva, sent us through drawings of two other forms which he had in his garden. If I come through Fiji on our return, I plan to pick up all the forms which Perks has collected, as I am quite sure that one of them will be the H. storckii collected by Dr. Seemann, in Taveuni, in 1865.
I suppose our interest in H. storckii (H. denisonii) would seem rather odd to hibiscus fanciers who are working only on form, color and size for show blooms. But as you know, we are going for plant vigor, and our tests so far show that we get this by crossing H. rosa-sinensis and other true species. This year, with close to 500 H. rosa-sinensis and H. denisonii (H. storckii) crosses, we should also learn whether this cross downgrades bloom. If not, we really have a start toward the development of a strain of hibiscus cultivars which should have real horticultural significance.
In addition to Dr. Seemann's H. storckii specimen, I asked to see the three species in the Section Lilibiscus (HOCH.) that I wanted to find in Madagascar, as I felt that they might just be cross compatible with the species with which we are working. So they brought me most of the sheets they had on hibiscus in the Mascarene Islands, which include Mauritius, Reunion and Rodriguez Islands. Unfortunately their collection contained only one of the three I wanted to see H. perrieri var. rosa madagascarensis.
That specimen, as the young Englishman who helped me said, was "a bit ropey". No flower was included, the leaves were small 1-1/2" long and 1/2" wide. It is shrubby, however, and could possibly be fairly close to rosa-sinensis. I hope to see a better specimen at Lisbon, and also the other two not available here.
In the collection was H. phanerandrus-BAKER. This one intrigued me, for it had a pink or red corolla about 3" in diameter, with perfect hibiscus form, and a long staminal column. The leaves are very small, however-about 1", in fact. It is a woody shrub, and I want to look it up later in Hochreutiner for a further description.
My great surprise, however, were the sheets on H. cameronii. There were several forms of this - at least two of which had the same flower as our H. cameronii, but with different leaves. As you know, our H. cameronii has deeply cut, 3-lobed leaves, although some are almost entire. One of the specimens at Kew had perfectly round leaves, with even, small serrations or "scalloped" edges; another had heart-shaped leaves, but this one was called a "shrub" 8'-10' high which, of course, ours is not,.
In the H. cameronii sheets, too, was a specimen called H. macrosolandraHOCH. which looked much like our H. cameronii, but as I had no description of H. cameronii for a close check, I cannot say.
In a miscellaneous file in the Mascarene section, I found several forms of single hibiscus, pink and red, which to all appearances, were H. rosa-sinensis perhaps the common red, and a single pink. These were collected in Central Madagascar in 1883, by Baker.
So that I might examine specimens of H.liliflorus and H.genevii, I was given the Mauritius file. This included several sheets on both - at least, they were so marked. But no examination and comparison of the specimens with the one we call Johore and with the common Floribunda, which I had with me were not very productive. In fact, the leaf shape and flower form of one specimen, though very productive. In fact, the leaf shape and flower form of one specimen, though not botanically compared, appeared to this layman's eye to be quite like Dr. Seemann's H. storckii specimen discussed above. At least the leaf shape, number of bracts and stipules were the same, and this flower, although in bad condition, resembled the H. storckii.
It was noticeable that no specimen of H. liliflorus or H. genevii had lascinated petals which are charactertistic of the H. schizopetalus hybrids. Thus, my earlier speculation that H. archerii and H. Liliflorus could be synonymous was not based on facts at least the facts as proven by herbarium specimens available at Kew.
In summary, my day at the Kew Herbarium did not add greatly to my notes on the Indian Ocean species, and it appears that only an examination of these species in cultivation or in the wild will give definitive evidence of true species status. I will try to get in another half-day there, however, and hope to see some specimens at the Lisbon Botanic Garden Herbarium.
Several people at Kew Herbarium are working on the flora of South Africa, but none of them could give me the name of anyone in South Africa to whom I could go for information and assistance in Malvaceae. I should also report that I was very well received by Dr. Seeley and his staff, one of whom, G.U. Lucas, was very much interested in hibiscus, and asked us to send him all of our publications.
I also visited the Kew Conservatories and checked the Hibiscus rosa-sinensis varieties now growing there. I made a list of several years ago, but there have been some additions. For our records, the Kew collection is shown below - some 28 different named varieties and some unnamed seedlings. Not all of the named varieties of seedlings were in bloom.
"The President" - our "Agnes Galt"
You can see from the above list that Kew has little to offer us in the way of material. They also have other sepcies of hibiscus, but I saw none that could not be secured from any of our regular sources much easier than from Kew.
In addition to Kew, I have spent several hours at the Royal Horticultural Society Library, which is within walking distance of this hotel. As you know, I have read everything available on hibiscus in this library, that is, the older literature. This trip, I have so far covered only two subjects: first, a review of the British Horticultural Abstracts, which gives all bibliographical data and a short abstract of all work done since 1931, in horticulture. This work comprises 34 volumes, but as it is well organized and indexed, I was able to take off all references on H. rosa-sinensis and allied species in two afternoons. This will help us as we have no comparable reference in the U.S.
I also saw all of the old nursery catalogues in this library - particularly those of the firms mentioned in the various early horticultural works as having anything to do with hibiscus. I learned very little new - most of the nurseries were offering from five to ten varieties as early as 1865, and have continued to do so. Neither the names or the varieties have changed much, and they include only the older forms of H. rosa-sinensis that we grow.
We will be here until Thursday, when we take off for about four days in Scotland. While there, I hope to visit the Botanic Garden, and Herbarium - no doubt you will have a report from there.
So far, I have not been able to get our Madagascar visa through, but I expect to receive it on Tuesday - also the landing permit for Kenya. Meanwhile, I hope this Rhodesian independence thing does not flare up into violence, as the entire South African Continent might not be so attractive to this traveller if it does.
I do not as yet have my Lisbon or Nairobi address, so if you write to me,
c/o Thos. Cook. As for here, we will try to book in at the same hotel on
return from Scotland, but you had better continue to address us at Cooks.
October 11, 1965
My experiences here during the past ten days have fully convinced me that the days of free and easy travelling in Europe are past, and as for Africa, well, I'll give you a full report later, but at this juncture, it looks frustrating. We spent the entire day getting a visa for Kenya, and after an hour at the Malagasy Republic Embassy - a long ride out into the Kensington area, I learned that I will have to have a letter of recommendation before I can land. This is supposed to be from someone in Madagascar, and not having any answer to my letter to Paul Girard, it appeared that I was up against a stone wall. Finally the attache, who had only a little English, agreed to accept a letter from the American Embassy, which I shall try to get tomorrow.
The Kenya visa was not called to my attention by Cooks in Los Angeles apparently they did not know of this requirement. However, I called theKenya High Commission here and found that it was necessary to have a landing permit. This only required three hours, mostly to fill out forms. After I had the Kenya permit, I returned to the hotel to find a letter from Cooks, London, who are working on our Lisbon, Nairobi and Johannesburg hotel reservations, stating that we would have to have a landing permit for Kenya, and I should bring in my passports and they would obtain this permit. You can imagine what would happen if I waited for them to act - we're going up to Scotland on Thursday, to stay four days, and then back to London for one day only. It would take Cooks a week to do what we did in three hours. They were quite surprised when I phoned to tell them that I had the permit in hand, and they were to hurry along with the hotel reservations.
I should be used to all of this, after the time I've spent in England, but it seems to me that these people become more inefficient and careless with the years. Or is my blood pressure higher than it used to be?
I have accomplished nothing more on the hibiscus front. But in going over my notes, taken at the Kew Herbarium I found that in checking the H. cameronii material, there was one specimen that was first labelled H. rosasinensis, then the H. rosa-sinensis crossed out and the words: "H. cameronii, Knowles and Westcott" written in. The flower was pink to green in color - as nearly as I could tell from the specimen - and was about 5" across. The leaf was similar to H. rosa-sinensis.
Perhaps this could have been the reason for this mix-up in H. cameronii which has resulted in both Indian and Hawaiian bibliography to refer to H. cameronii as cross compatible with H. rosa-sinensis.
Grandson Rodney has a very bad cold, but mine has tapered off. This worries us, as he had a bad spell with pneumonia early this year, and he does not throw off colds easily. My belly ache has left me, and I'm again on TEACHERS - 70 proof only. Madame Expedition Secretary seems in the pink more pep than any of us. She would move to England permanently if I would agree, as she feels so well here.
Time is running out for us here. I would like to have another hour or two at the Royal Horticultural Society Library, and a half-day at Kew, but with all of the red tape on "forward" arrangements, I don't think I'll have the time.As ever, Ross
October 15, 1965
This letter, written in a cold, third-floor walk-up room at the end of a heavy day should set you straight about one thing - the exact status of hibiscus in this travelling trio.
We left London last night for the purpose of visiting the Edinburgh Botanic Garden, and showing grandson Rodney the beautiful Scottish capital. To make it more interesting to him, and to teach him some of the intimate details of British travel, I bought three berths on the 10:30 sleeper, which brought us in with the dawn. It was my idea that we would take the night sleeper back to London tonight, as I rebooked at the St. James Court Hotel for tomorrow night.
However, I did not fully check with the secretary of the Expedition. It seems that she had written to the Yorkshire Terrier breeder in Blackpool, who sells her dogs, and asked this breeder to write her, c/o British Railways Station Master, Edinburgh, if she had a bitch for sale. If she had, we would stop over on our return and pick it up.
Accordingly, as I was gathering up the baggage this morning, Mrs. Gast excused herself, and a few moments later, returned with a letter from her Yorkie breeder friend. The answer was "yes, I have a bitch, a fine show bitch", and named a very fair price. Mrs. Gast is the only American to whom this English breeder will sell, and as she described the bitch as being of real show quality, the opportunity was one which, Mrs. Gast said, should not (actually "will not") be overlooked. So it was up to me to completely re-arrange our hotels, transportation, etc. so that we could stop off at Blackpool and pick up the dog.
First was the job of finding a bed, as we would not be going back tonight by sleeper. Leaving Mrs. Gast and the boy at the station, I found a cab, and asked him to take me to some small hotel around the tourist area where I might find a bed on such short notice. In less than a quarter hour I was fortunate enough to book this room at the Abercrombie House, patronized, I understand, mostly by thrifty Scots from the North. I had the cabbie wait for me, so I was back to the station in a half-hour, after I left it, and with a place for us this night.
Next came transportation. If you will look at your map, you will see that Blackpool, the famous English holiday resort, is on the west coast of England, on the Irish Sea. The direct route from London to Edinburgh follows, roughly, the so-called "Great North Road" or Watling Street, of the early English. Thus, to reach Blackpool, we will be able to use our tickets, but change at Preston, in Lancashire and buy another ticket for Blackpool and return to the Main Line. And the schedule is such that if we miss a train, or are held up in any way, we've had it, and the best we can do is to pick up the dog, and make it to our London hotel by midnight.
Actually, we leave here at 8:25 am, reach Preston at 12:00, and get the 12:25 to Blackpool to arrive there at 1:13. We must then get a cab to the breeder's house, negotiate for the dog, and get back to the station to catch the 5:10 back to London.
If it were Sunday, instead of Saturday, I would not try it, because on
the British Railroads do their "engineering", which is right-of-way
maintenance in U.S.A. Trains are re-routed, and schedules never kept, so
Other arrangements were to wire the breeder and our London hotel as regards our new schedule.
Our trip up here was to see the Edinburgh Botanic Garden hibiscus collection, do a little checking at their Herbarium, and to show grandson Rodney the town - but not necessarily in that order. So - you're right - we took the morning city tour to St. Giles Church, Holyrood Palace and Edinburgh Palace, arriving back at 1:10 pro. By the time we got our baggage from the Station, checked out of the hotel, and had lunch, it was 2:05, and as the British Railway sleepers are much like trying to get some rest on a bucking bronco, I was tired. But hibiscus to the fore - and off I went to the Botanic Garden.
The hotel advised me I should take a No. 27 bus, and that it was a 15-minute out to the garden. I caught the bus, and with no seats on the "ground floor", mounted to the deck. I became absorbed in the conversation of several Scot school boys, and by the time the conductor came around to collect my fare and advise me where to get off, I was passed the Garden stop - when I inquired, the conductor said:
"Air ye daft, mon? Yu've gone three stops passed it."
Three stops is six blocks in Edinburgh, and long blocks too. I decided to walk it, in spite of the late hour, but also decided to pass up the meeting with the curator, with my credentials, in favor of seeing the hibiscus collection in the conservatories on my own.
However, much to my disappointment, the gateman advised me that they were closed - that all of the stock had been moved, and was no longer on exhibition. Then I remembered that about a year ago, I had written the curator on some matter, and had been advised that the Garden was building a new glasshouse unit, which was to be completed in a few months. Apparently the "few months" will be a "few years", as the new houses have not as yet been started.
I then walked a half mile to the Administration Office and Herbarium, to find that the curator was on leave. His assistant took me up to the Herbarium, where I spent two hours going over their sheets on Indian Ocean and South African Malvaceae. Their collection was small, but in good shape. In the Mascarene Islands section there were several specimens marked H. liliflorus, and all different. One was definitely like our H. denisonii. All could have been H. rosa-sinensis hybrids. So I have just about come to the conclusion that H. liliflorus is a polymorphous species like H. rosa-sinensis, and thus takes several forms. However, none of the flowers have lascinated petals - this form did not show up in any of the Indian Ocean specimens either here or at Kew.
There were three sheets marked H. cameronii, all of which were definitely pink H. rosa-sinensis, so it appears that the mix-up in this species is quite wide-spread.
I was also able to see "Cienfuegosia gerrardii", a near relative of hibiscus, which Dr. Parks asked me to secure, if I could, in South Africa. It seems to be rare, thus not in cultivation, although it is supposed to be the type species for the genus Cienfuegosia.
I found nothing else of any help to me in my prospective travels in the Indian Ocean.
Before leaving London, I was able to secure our visas for Madagascar. This took three trips to the Malagasy Republic Embassy, and a lot of laborious explanation, plus two days wait. Then, on my return to the hotel, with the visas, I found an answer to my letter to Paul Girard, the travel agent in Tananrive. He said that he had been in Hong Kong, thus delayed answering me. He confirmed the fact that we could go into Madagascar from Mauritius, so I will write him to arrange our transportation and our hotels. We'll go to Mauritius on our regular ticket, after we visit South Africa, then back to Madagascar, then return to Mauritius to continue our journey across the Indian Ocean to Perth, Australia.
It's "lights out" now - I have the alarm set to 6:00 am, so we can get out of the hotel comfortably, and not miss the 8:20. If we do, our entire day's schedule will fall apart like a house of cards. And thank God for my experiences of the past few years with English travel.As ever,
Later: In telling of the changes in schedule made necessary by the
purchase of a dog, I neglected to say what was to be done with the dog.
This may be the biggest problem of all. What l must to is to contact
Spratts, the shipping agency on Monday, and make arrangements for shipping
her to Janet Haines my sister-in-law, who is keeping our Janey. This is a
big job in England, and we only have one day, as we fly out for Lisbon on
Sunday, October 17, 1965
This letter will close off our English correspondence, for I'll be busy tomorrow getting the new dog shipped, and taking care of last-minute details. We have to leave for the airport right after breakfast Tuesday.
I've told you about my visit to Kew - I would have liked to go out again - but time did not permit. Also, I would have liked to visit the Herbarium and Library at the British Museum of Natural Science, but this too, was not possible, mainly because I had to spend so much time getting my Kenya and Malagasy visas.
I did spend a couple of hours at the Chelsea Physic Garden. My old friend was not there, but I got in anyway. I guess I was over-impressed with the Library on my first visit a few years back, but I found nothing new on hibiscus. Their shelves are mostly confined to old herbals; as you know, this institution was maintained by the "Soceity of Apothecaries", in the old days, so they were principally concerned with medical botany.
Another problem in all libraries here is that insofar as old publications are concerned, the cards are all author-indexed. True, you can consult Hortus Kewiensis, and pick up some subject references, but this I did several years ago, and this trip convinced me that I have seen them all.
However, they do have a subject index in their modern "Horticultural Abstracts", and, as I told you before, I have been able to get full reference, and even abstracts of all material on hibiscus since 1931.
The weather is still marvelous for England. If they only had some heat in these rooms, it would be really pleasant. Also, we have key trouble- in spite of the fact that this is a very large hotel, there is only one key to the rooms, and we cannot have this, as the maids, housekeeper, etc. all have to use it. Furthermore, the second day we came in, the lift broke down, and although we were assured that it would be repaired immediately, it's still inoperative, and we can either walk up six flights, or take the lift in another wing and walk around to our apartment. The English just cannot seem to learn how to run hotels; the "Reception" desk is always staffed with women, most of them very inefficient, and too many of them rude, and even impertinent.
It could be my age, but it seems to me that European travel has become greatly complicated with the years. Perhaps this is because so many Americans are travelling, and instead of appreciating the business that they bring to Europe, too many Europeans in the tour business try to be as nasty as they can. The reason, I believe, is that Americans, as a rule, are heavy spenders, and most Europeans envy our prosperity - it never occurs to them that on the average, an American in any job puts out about twice as much work in a day as does a European. This is particularly true of the English, and perhaps not true of the Germans.
But the fun in travelling in Europe is gone-particularly in such a situation as I am in on this trip, with young Rodney. We want him to see the so-called "cultural spots", and this means that we must travel the tourist route.
I was not so particular with my son, Dave. I never have had so much fun on a European trip as I did in 1956, when we toured Europe by car, and while we missed most cultural spots, we saw every automobile junkyard in Europe. In those days, one could drive from city to city, without worry about lodgings, as they were always available. Dave picked up several packing cases full of antique brass auto lamps, which he later sold at a profit -almost enough to pay for his trip. He also found that fabulous old car - the 1910 Bianchi - that year in a car shed in Switzerland. He still has it, and it's worth about $20,000.
You will probably hear from me next from Lisbon.As ever,
Tuesday, October 19, 1965
We flew out of still sunny England this morning, and landed here a few hours later in real California weather. In fact, on our drive to the city from the airport, we could have easily believed that we are just passing along a California country road, with olive trees, vineyards, and fruit trees bordering the road. And at the airport, in a parking planting, three huge single red (our Brilliant) hibiscus waved a many blossomed hello to us.
As we were up early, we sacked up for awhile (the old siesta custom prevails here, I'm told) then took a walk through an adjacent park. There I saw more single red, and single pink which I would call Mrs. Wilder. That's our hibiscus experience in Portugal up to now, but we're booked for a day-long trip to the country, and a return along the beaches, and the Tagus River tomorrow. The Botanic Garden visit will be scheduled for Thursday, although the so-called "Malvaceae expert" whose name Griffith gave me, failed to answer my letter.
I received your letters of October 13 and 15 yesterday, but before commenting on them, I'll button up our English chapter a little better than I did in my last letter, written Sunday night.
First, we had no trouble shipping the dog - we went to the Kennel Club for advice as to who we should use as a shipping agency and they suggested a Kay Stafford. She has a place out in the Kensington area, so we cabbed out. Unlike most English business people - particularly women, Kay took over, and arranged with Pan American for the dog to go non-stop, on the 12:00 pm plane today. This means that she lands there at 3:00 pm today. (I should, perhaps, use "landed" for you, but it should be "lands" for us, as we are 9 hours earlier than you here in Lisbon.)
I wired both Aunt Jennie and Sister - that the dog was coming in, and for them to meet the plane, so I don't think there will be any slip-up. We also instructed them to put her with a Vet for a couple of weeks, as she should be examined for ear mites, fleas, worms, etc. and given her shots. She was in scroungy condition.
Getting the dog off prevented me from visiting the Royal Horticultural Society Library again, and another hour or so at Kew. But I did complete almost everything that I set out to do in London.
In your letter, you commented a good deal on my report on the visit to the Kew Herbarium, and by this time you will have had my letter reporting on my call at the Edinburgh Botanic Garden Herbarium.
I should tell you that these "sheets" really tell very little, especially the old ones. They are just a few twigs and possibly a flower taped to a card about "10" x 16". There is no set selection of material - some have woody twigs - others apparently succumbed when cut. Leaf color and texture is gone, and the flowers are either brown, or show tinges of pink, even when the label indicates a red flower.
There is little information - the name of the collector, the date, and his guess as to what the specimen is. And too many of them seem to me to be guesses only. In most cases, the location where they are collected is noted.
It could do no good to photograph the sheets, and besides, Herbariums are dark holes and there is not enough light for my type of photography. I did make copious notes, and in some cases, made tracings of leaves on thin paper.
But all in all, it was mostly an exercise in frustration. It did convince me, however, that outside of Florida, California and Hawaii, there is precious little known about hibiscus.
In summary, do not expect too much from my Herbarium research; it was much like trying to identify a human mummy.
As to the H. cameronii mix-up, it is quite possible that the specimens I referred to were quite old, and had been seen - or even re-labelled by Hochreutiner himself. I think we ought to prepare a paper on this subject, as confusion still exists.
I hope you have not addressed any letters to me at either Lisbon or Nairobi, as we will be here only 4 days, and Nairobi 3 days. On receipt of this, write me only c/o Thomas Cook & Sons, 36 A RISSIK Street, Johannesburg. I will visit Cook here, however, and leave a forwarding address.As ever,
October 21, 1965
Some very nice things can happen to people who are interested in hibiscus, I learned today. Such as a visit to the apartment of a very charming Portuguese widow. She wanted to be helpful - far more helpful than I wanted her to be under the circumstances, but I turned out to be just another case where the language barrier resulted in creating an embarrassing situation. As of this writing, I'm still trying to explain what happened, but my wife still refuses to believe my story. But perhaps, I'd better tell you the story, or you too, may question its veracity.
It all came about through my efforts to find one F.A. Mendonca, who according to Austin Griffith, appears in a reference work in botanical research as being a specialist in Malvaceae and connected with the Center of Botanical Investigations here in Lisbon. His presence here was one of the reasons why I routed myself this way. The address of the Center was given as Rua Pedrocores 77, which is quite far out, close to the beach. I had written him from London, but had received no answer. It was my hope that the Center would have an Herbarium, and that inasmuch as the Portuguese were the first to visit the Malabar Coast of India, purported home of the hibiscus, this Herbarium might contain some very old specimens of H. rosa-sinensis.
This morning I phoned twice but there was no answer, so I decided to cab out to Pedrocores - as the district is called, and make a personal call. Ella and Rodney decided to come along.
It was a long ride out, but an enjoyable one, as our route took us under the great suspension bridge which is being built over the Tagus River, said to be the longest bridge of this kind in Europe.
Arriving at Number 77, apparently just a big warehouse-type building, I found the premises vacant, with a sign on the door. I asked the cabbie to read it, and take me to the new address. This proved to be almost all the way back to the hotel again, but in an older part of the city. The building had none of the appearance of a research institution, but I had the driver ask, and he was assured that the address given on the sign was located on the fourth floor of this building. So I barged in, located the concierge, and she took me up in a lift, and what is more, asked me to wait in the corridor while she announced my arrival. This seemed rather odd, but I'm never surprised at national customs, so I remained in the corridor for five minutes. Then the concierge opened another door, and ushered me into a very large sitting room, beautifully decorated with tapestries, oil paintings and marble statuary, and furnished as a living room, rather than an office. This sort of bugged me, again I stayed put.
This time, I waited fifteen minutes-with Ella and Rodney in the narrow street with the cab meter running. I began to get a little antsy pantsy by this time, then the door opened, and a very attractive, middle-aged lady swept in, beautifully dressed in what I would say went for informal wear here. She gave me a friendly, and - well, I guess it could be called a seductive smile, held out her hand in greeting, and as she addressed me in French, I suppose it was my cue to kiss her hand. Not being very adept at this, I decided not to practice on such short notice, I introduced myself, and asked if she were Senhora Mendonca. My French is practically non-existent, so I addressed her in my very poor Spanish, and she answered in that language. By this time we were seated on a divan. She said she was not Senhora Mendonca, in fact, she did not know such a man. Furthermore, she did not have a man for her husband, the late Senhor Peiriera, God rest his soul, had departed this life several years ago and she was very much alone.
Each time I tried to explain the purpose of my visit, and to excuse my presence, which was, I said in halting Spanish, evidently a mistake, she refused to listen. No, she said, this is the right address, and she was the proper person for me to call on. Would I have a glass of wine before we discussed the terms of our business?
By this time you have perhaps guessed just what the situation really was - the charming lady owned the Pedrocores property, and the sign had been an advertisement of its availability for lease, and not the new address of the Center of Botanic Research. Our cabby did not know why I was interested in the address, but guessed I wanted to lease it.
At any rate, I finally made my excuses and bowed out, leaving a very disappointed lady, who had apparently risen from her siesta, dressed for a prospective lessor of her property, only to find that she had no customer, only a hibiscus-happy American, who had few social graces, no French, no Portugese, poor Spanish, and a wife and grandson waiting downstairs in a cab.
Later, I called the Agricultural Attache at the American Embassy, and learned that the Center has moved to another city. So I guess I'll not see an Herbarium after all, and I'll have to remain under suspicion for the 40-minute wait.As ever,
October 22, 1965
Under separate cover I am sending you two sticks labelled "Lisbon #1" and "Lisbon #2".
"Lisbon #1" is the one which looks very much like our Floribunda, and "Lisbon #2" is undoubtedly our Brilliant. However, I thought it might be a good idea to grow them under our conditions, for final comparison.
"Lisbon #1", as well as our Floribunda is very much like the description and Herbarium specimens of H. genevii, Bojer. I saw it in Madeira, and tried to get a stick back to you. However, it was one which did not come through.
So far, I have not seen "Madeira #3" here.
I am writing this as I have my continental breakfast in bed. Today, I plan to make another try to contact someone who can speak English and who is familiar with the garden setup here. because of their close association with England, I thought I would have no language difficulties here, but this was not the case.As ever,
As I felt that the advice of the American Embassy might not be accurate, I went to the American Express, and the receptionist traced down Mendonca for me. I went out to see him, but he had left for London the same day I arrived here, to work - of all places - at Kew Herbarium for a week.
However, his assistant gave me the name of the best Herbarium here - strangely, Mendonca's outfit does not have one. I went out this afternoon, but found no Indian Ocean species.
So it has been a dry run here, as far as any help on our problem.
Will write in full, wrapping up the Lisbon situation, when we get to Nairobi. Too tired now.As ever,
October 25, 1965
I believe that Nairobi should be called the Garden City of the World; I have never seen such profusion of color or such a great variety of flowering trees and shrubs in both private and public plantings, particularly the latter. And credit for creating all this must be given Peter Greensmith, who retires in a few weeks, after many years in charge of Nairobi parks.
Hibiscus plays an important part in the public landscaping, in a very unusual way - here our hobby flower is grown almost exclusively as standards, and what is more, very tall standards. In many cases the standard is 8-feet high before branching begins. Almost all of the "oldies" are found here, and are grown this way.
I must admit, however, that the most color is contributed by bougainvillaea, varying in color from white, through light yellow, bright yellow, orange, red and pink, grown in all forms, including tall standards. They have dozens of varieties here, due, I'm told, because they sport frequently, and these sports have been propagated.
I spent two hours with Peter Greensmith this morning, and he showed me around the City Nursery. He is very much interested in hibiscus, and has quite a collection of Hawaiian varieties, including Morley Theaker, Vasco, Miss Hawaiian, Frank Green, etc. He is not propagating them as he finds them poor bloomers, and difficult to root. As he has but few men who can graft, he confines his hibiscus production to the oldies. However, in retirement, he plans to grow all of the Hawaiians and has asked me to send him seed, which I will do. I will say that his Hawaiians, planted in 10 and 20-gallon containers, are doing very well, some of them being 10' to 12' high.
It's rather surprising to find hibiscus doing so well here. This very modern city lies at an elevation of 5500 feet above sea level, and one would suppose that it would get quite cold here. But these temperatures are much the same as ours, in fact, hibiscus-wise the area seems much like ours.
Greensmith visits Madagascar and Mauritius frequently, and gave me a lot of good tips as to people and places to see. But he confirmed Mason's statement that the hibiscus species we want are inaccessible. He says that we should by all means visit the Grand Comores Islands, as we can fly in from Tananarive and that now there is a good hotel there.
And as for the Seychelles - maybe you or Mrs. Staniford can help on this. Greensmith says that there is a U.S. Tracking Station - probably NASA, manned by Americans, and that they run a plane down to Tananarive about every two days. He says I could probably "hitch-hike" a ride up there. Does Mrs. Staniford have any influence at Jet Propulsion Labs? If so, she might clue me in on this. I will also write to Egolf for an assist.
We only have tomorrow as we fly out early Wednesday. We came on Sunday about 10:00 am, but we were so pooped that we went right to bed. We had been up and in our clothes for about 27 hours. Took the plane at Lisbon at 8:25 in the morning-this stopped at Barcelona, Spain, Nice, France, and arrived in Rome at 3:30 pm. We laid over there until 11:00 pm, and took Alitalia Air Lines, which stopped in Athens, Greece. We then headed for Nairobi - a 7 hour flight, with not an empty seat in the plane. It was a Boeing 707, with three seats across, and highly uncomfortable.
We will probably go out to the game park tomorrow so that Rodney can get some animal pictures. Also, I plan to get a few more hibiscus pictures.
Greensmith arranged for me to get any cuttings I wanted from the City Park Nursery, but I did not see anything worth sending back. We have all of them.As ever, Ross
------------------------------------------------------ Nariobi, Kenya
October 26, 1965
I've just returned from another 2-hours visit to the City Nursery on my own, and while I did not see much that I did not have a quick look at yesterday, I did make some new observations.
First, they have a greater collection of varieties than I first noted. There is no one place in the can yard where hibiscus are placed - they are spotted here and there, and only by covering the entire two acres was I able to assess their collection properly.
Their collection consists of (1) all the "oldies" or most of them, (2) a dozen or more of the Peradynia hybrids from Ceylon, and at least 40 Hawaiians - not the very latest, but of the circa Surfrider, Gold Dust, Lemon Chiffon, Madonna, etc., which were shipped two years ago from Hawaii.
Incidentally, l found out why the standards are 8 to 10 feet high- it is because they are so heavily used for sidewalk planting, and people must walk under them. I also suspect that in this form, they are less susceptible to "midnight requisitioning".
The native foreman in charge of this nursery said that S.A. Perkins, Mr. Greensmith's assistant, had done some hybridization, and had taught him how. So I called on Perkins, it seems that he tried to make H. syriacus X H. rosa-sinensis, crosses, and also H. trionum X H. rosa-sinensis without success. He is no longer interested. He said that a local seedsman had hybridized, but really has not done much of it. He does have a collection of Hawaiians, however. I would have liked to see a man named Harries, a wealthy pineapple grower, who also has a collection of Hawaiians, and according to a local seedsman, has done some hybridizing. However, he lives nearly 100 miles away. Apparently he has not made a significant contribution, as Greensmith did not mention his name.
Hibiscus does seed easily here, outside. The Ruth Wilcox (H. arnottianus) are covered with seed. Tomorrow, I am going to look over some plants for seed collection purposes.
We are staying at the Stanley Hotel, favorite headquarters of American and European big game hunters. I am writing this while enjoying my beforedinner drink on the famous Thorn Tree Terrace, popular haunt of white hunters and their clients. In my mind I can see Ernest Hemingway striding onto the terrace with his retinue of white hunters.
Personally, I have nothing but contempt for those who glory in killing wild animals just to have them stuffed - parts of them, at least, to hang in their studies. If I had to have a trophy of this nature, I would choose a white hunter or one of his clients.
I hope that big white hunter sitting at the next table does not read my thoughts!As ever,
----------------------------------- Johannesburg, South Africa
October 28, 1965
Arrived here late yesterday afternoon, after a rather hectic flight from Nairobi. We were due to fly at 9:10 am, but the plane was 3 hours late. The flight originated in London, and we were advised that the hold-up was due to a call by Prime Minister Wilson for some top brass from Whitehall to join him in Salisbury.
To top it off, the S.A. Airways, the local staff of which is all native, failed to pick us up at the hotel according to promise, and we (as well as several others) had to make a dash by cab at the last minute. Then, at the airport, due to the delay, and the fact that the brand of English spoken in the emerging Nations is almost pure Swahili, our boarding was difficult. I assure you that the Scotch I was able to buy when we were aloft, was quite welcome.
We landed in Salisbury, Rhodesia, where we stayed 45 minutes. Prime Minister Wilson was conferring there with native leaders, but did not come down to the airport to ask my advice.
Cook's representative met us here at the airport to advise of a mistake in booking which meant that we stayed in the Langham Hotel last night and had to move over here today. A hassle, really, with 5 bags and two dependents.
Tomorrow, I will make all of my forward bookings allotting two weeks for Mauritius and Madgascar. The way airline reservations are be taken up in advance, on the Joberg-Perth run indicates that I'd better book now, or I'll find myself and family South African residents for the winter.
Saw only one or two hibiscus here. It's really out of their clement.Sincerely, Ross
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