The mystery of Tigridia conchiflora var. 'Watkinsoni'

Started by steffthepeff, March 22, 2024, 12:23:22 PM

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I live in Prestwich, Manchester (UK) and have become very interested in the botanical history of the area - particularly the Victorian botanist, John Horsefield. I got my first house and garden in 2022, and wanted to nod to his achievements by planting some of his hybrids.

I managed to obtain some of his Narcissus Horsfieldii from heritage bulb website Croft 16 and they're now happily blooming in my front garden, pride of place :)

He also raised a hybrid lily in his garden, Tigridia conchiflora. He was a handloom weaver, entirely self-taught in the field of botany and lived his whole life in poverty. Selling this hybrid was the only financial benefit to come from his interests. He sold it to Manchester nurseryman Thomas Watkinson for £10, and as such it doesn't carry his own name.

I've searched and searched, but I can't find his Tigridia conchiflora var. 'Watkinsoni' anywhere.

Does anyone know anything about the history of name changes with this lily? There's a picture on John Horsefield's Wikipedia page if it helps as reference. Did 'conchiflora' change to 'pavonia'? I'd really like to hear from anyone who knows about Tigridia and it's history, and can shine a light on this mystery.

I'm guessing 'conchiflora' means 'shell flower' as in the common name 'Mexican shellflower' but that's as close as I can get. Also interested if anyone knows of any reputable heritage bulb sellers in this area. Thanks!

Martin Bohnet

"conchiflora" Sweet was never valid. Molseed lists it among others like T. oxypetala R. Morris, T. speciosa Poit or T. grandiflora Salisb., which all have been descriptions of random emergence of recessive genes in cultivated populations of T. pavonia. There's also a set of names spooking around horticulture until this day, usually as T. pavonia var x with x=

Aureua = gold
Canariensis = light yellow
Lilacina = pink
Speciosa =red
Alba = white

That said, there can of course be a certain cultivar, but unless it's genetically stable like "alba immaculata" I'm not sure if a genetic individual could survive that long. I have no idea if the "Sunset in Oz" cultivar Mary Sue Ittner shows descendants from in the Tigridia pavonia
Height: 45-80 cm (1.5-2.6 ft)
Flower Colors: white, red, yellow, pink, orange, patterned
Special: edible storage organ
Life form: deciduous bulb
Climate: USDA Zone 8-9
article still exists somewhere - if it was, the plants CAN get old on their own, but actually it is not unusual enough have the "orange through pink scattered pigments on yellow base color" form for safely identifying that cultivar.
Martin (pronouns: he/his/him)


I would echo Martin's comment about longevity of cultivars/hybrids.

To take a very simple, common example - Narcisuss tete a tete, a complicated hybrid containing a lot of N. cyclamineus.

I first came across this plant around 20-25 years ago, (although it was bred in the 1940's), when it was/became an expensive and desirable curiosity, still sold in small numbers only, as dry bulbs or potted and in flower, not by the (10's)kg as they are today.

All of those plants back then had a wonderful scent and were very small. Neither applies to what is sold as the plant today (or at least so in the UK).

David Pilling

Steff - good project, very interesting story. Martin's reference to 'Molseed' goes back to the PBS wiki page on Tigridia:

The gardening world has managed to lose lots of things over the years, holly with white berries for example. Vendors will fill demand with whatever they have. Stuff drifts, I have pots of cultivars which are not what they were, because they have generated seed which has grown and replaced the original.

Look at it another way, sometimes it is where the plant is grown that counts, quality of the soil and climate. Some plants in some places do well and produce lots of variation.

The old thing that keeping your own seed will produce plants better adapted to your garden.


The production and selling of seed as certain cultivars is probably less of a problem in many bulbs as growth from seed is often slow or very slow, although crossing of plants to produce seed in the search for new garden-worthy cultivars and hybrids, is obviously still very important.
Garden-produced seed in particular, being sold named as the parent (even assuming the parent is what it is thought to be), is often mightily misleading in many plants, not least herbaceous species - 3 years after sowing - "hmmmmmmmm, that should have a red flower, not orange".

In the case of tete a tete, it is sterile, so changes have occured through vegetative propagation.