Sandy's Garden ... Alstroemeria

I was browsing the internet recently.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 24th October 2016, 10:04 am
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 8:52 pm
The corms of wild Cyclamen were, apparently, rooted up and eaten by pigs in England
The corms of wild Cyclamen were, apparently, rooted up and eaten by pigs in England

It’s something I rarely do because the immense amount of information available there can tempt one to waste hours reading about all manner of things in which one is not really interested.

I chanced on ‘Best Flowers to Choose for Your October Wedding.’ And as proof that the internet tempts one to waste time on irrelevancies if such proof be sought … for I have been married for 49 years … I dipped into it, finding alstroemeria nominated as one of the recommended flowers.

Now alstroemeria is native to Peru and, although it has been known in Europe for more than 200 years, it is only in comparatively recent times that it has become familiar. Very few of our Victorian ancestors would have heard of it and it was certainly not to be found in their supposed language of flowers. Nevertheless, while we treat this ‘language’ of the symbolism of flowers with disdain, contemporary enthusiasts assert that alstroemeria symbolises the power of friendship and a mutual bond of support between two people, which accounts for its inclusion in a list of suggested wedding flowers.

The first European to discover alstroemeria was Baron Claus Alstroemer, a Swedish nobleman who, in 1753, sent seed of the plant from Peru to his close friend and fellow-Swede Carl Linnaeus, also known as Carl von Linné or Carolus Linnaeus, who is described by University of California Museum of Paleontology as, ‘the Father of Taxonomy, whose system for naming, ranking, and classifying organisms is still in wide use today.’ Linnaeus thanked his friend by naming the plant in his honour.

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    But it was the Cornish plant hunter William Lobb who, working for the Chelsea and Exeter-based Veitch Nurseries … the largest group of family-run plant nurseries in Europe during the 19th century … sent the first seed to England in 1840 and introduced the ‘Peruvian lily’ or ‘lily of the Incas’ to the United Kingdom. Since then, a large number of hybrids and cultivars have been introduced and developed as the showy and bright salmon, white, red, purple, pink and orange flowers … often flecked and striped and streaked with darker colours … have become increasingly well-known and well-liked. Every known species of alstroemeria originated in South America, although they have become naturalised in the United States, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Madeira and the Canary Islands. (Alstroemeria is now officially classified as a weed in Australia, its firmly-anchored tubers being very difficult to clear from ground in which it has become established.) You can actually grow them in Scotland, the cluster of underground tubers sending up both fertile and sterile stems, the fertile stems reaching up to 1.5 metres in height. They do, however, need lots of morning sunshine, protection from frost and a fair amount of care; and virtually all the alstroemeria to be found in Scotland today are nursery-grown cut flowers.

    One rather unexpected fact about alstroemeria is that, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), it can poison cats. “If a feline somehow consumes inordinate amounts of the plant, health issues could arise, ASPCA warns. “Since alstroemeria is from the Tulipa family, its bulbs contain tulipalin A. The tulipalin A component includes potentially harmful toxins that can cause diarrhoea, mouth irritation, vomiting, salivation and digestive irritation in cats. Because of the possibility of these effects, it is important to make sure your kitty never goes near the Peruvian lily.” But I don’t expect that even the most curious cat will have access to wedding flowers.