A Digression Upon James Taplin, Nepenthes Hybridizer
Robert A. DeFilipps
Keywords: history: James Taplin, Nepenthes.
Queen Victoria (1819--1901) presided over an era of unprecedented geographical
exploration, resulting in a treasury of newly discovered biota from the
far corners of the globe. The tropical plant novelties were destined for
elaborate Wardian cases, greenhouses and conservatories. A feel for the
kaleidoscopic activities of the late Victorian Age is given by Lynn Barber
(1980), who noted that "almost every year produced a new sensation---new
orchids, hummingbirds, pitcher plants, toucans, bird-eating spiders, giant
tortoises, moon moths from Java, the Victoria regia water lily." The "pitcher
plants" referred to in the quotation are the Nepenthes, which served
as raw material for several dedicated hybridizers of the late 1800's,
including the subject of this article, Mr. James P. Taplin. Coincidentally,
he worked for a time at Chatsworth in England, where the royal water lily
from British Guiana, the Victoria amazonica ("V. regia")
mentioned in the quotation, was first brought into flower by Sir Joseph
Paxton (Heeps, 1968). I became curious about James Taplin after noticing
an assortment of dried specimens of cultivated Nepenthes which
had been collected by A.L. Schott and deposited in the U.S. National Herbarium,
all but two of which were collected on January 7, 1887 at the United States
Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. The label-names on the specimens are
Nepenthes albomarginata, N. dominiana, N. hookeri (collected September
20, 1886), N. laevis, N. mastersiana, N. phyllamphora,
N. x morganiana, N. pattersonii, N. rafflesiana and N. x
sedenii. One unidentified specimen collected by the same person in
1885, with the locality stated only as "District of Columbia," is also
present. While looking for information about these species, it was soon
learned that Nepenthes x morganiana was a hybrid made by
a certain Mr. James Taplin, a Briton who had emigrated to the United States,
but further data about him was exceedingly hard to trace.
Before continuing with a consideration of the hybridist Taplin, it is
interesting to note that virtually nothing seems to be known about the
aforementioned Schott's organizational affiliation or personal history.
His general collections were made in the eastern United States and total
about 200--500 sheets deposited in the U.S. National Herbarium, and it
is often debatable whether any given specimen is from wild, or cultivated,
material. The living Nepenthes specimens from which Schott's collections
were made are, of course, long gone from the conservatories of the Botanic
Garden. Today the garden, located within sight of the U.S. Capitol building,
attracts many visitors from all parts of the world, who are intrigued
by the impressive controlled-environment growth chamber displaying vigorous
specimens of Nepenthes burkei, N. gracilis, N. macfarlanei, N.
x mixta Superba, N. reinwardtiana, N. ventricosa
x alata, N. rafflesiana, and others.
It seems a gratifying coincidence that one of the popular species which
was being grown at the botanic garden and collected by Schott over one
hundred years ago, N. rafflesiana, is still represented in its
living exhibits, though the plant assuredly is not a descendant of the
earlier 1887 germplasm. Incidentally, a specimen of Nepenthes rafflesiana
(originally identified as N. ampullaria), collected on the historic
Wilkes Expedition (U.S. South Seas Exploring Expedition of 1838--1842),
is filed in the U.S. National Herbarium. It is one of the 50,000 herbarium
specimens collected on the expedition, and they became the core of the
nascent U.S. National Herbarium, now located in the Smithsonian's National
Museum of Natural History (Eyde, 1985, 1986). Living plants of various
other kinds were brought back from the expedition, to became the foundation
display material for the fledgling U.S. Botanic Garden. Also historically
significant is the fact that the California pitcher plant or cobra lily,
Darlingtonia californica, which was eventually named by John Torrey
in Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge 6: 5 (1854), was first discovered
by W.D. Brackenridge on the Pacific Coast leg of the epic Wilkes voyage.
During his tenure as gardener at Chatsworth, Mr. Taplin would have had
access to living Nepenthes and built up an experience in growing
them, for seedlings were being raised there as early as the era of 1830--1860
(Macfarlane, 1916). In fact, when the 14-year old Princess Victoria (later
Queen Victoria) visited Chatsworth in 1832, she remarked in her daily
diary that the pitcher plants in the conservatory were beautiful (Markham,
1935). A vigorous, 20-foot tall, 50-pitchered, and literally "caged" specimen
of Nepenthes distillatoria at Chatsworth was, as early as 1838,
proclaimed by gardener Joseph Paxton to be "without doubt...the finest
grown specimen in Britain."
Paxton, who had a brilliant career in horticulture and public service,
left Chatsworth in 1858, and his letter of resignation, dated January
27, 1858, said that he would help find a successor to manage the property
(Markham, 1935). Several positions in property and business management,
and presumably gardening, became vacant as a result of his leaving (also,
numerous workmen had to be dismissed). James Taplin, an experienced gardener
who had worked on some of the finest gardens in England, was duly appointed
head gardener to His Grace the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth, to succeed
Sir Joseph Paxton on an estate which employed around 130 gardeners (Anon.,
1892; Heeps, 1968). Paxton occupied himself with other matters after leaving
Chatsworth, and died in 1865; Taplin himself left Chatsworth in 1864 and
emigrated to the United States.
In America, Taplin took a position in charge of the florist business
of Mr. George Such in South Amboy, New Jersey, where he created numerous
hybrids of Nepenthes. The Taplin hybrid N. x morganiana
evidently reached the national botanic garden in Washington, D.C. from
the Such nursery by 1886, only about 5 or 6 years after the progeny of
the cross were available for distribution, judging by the January 1887
date of Schott's collection.
Filed with the century-old Schott herbarium specimen of N. x
morganiana is a drawing (Figure 2) which decades ago had been cut-and-pasted
from an old nursery trade catalog. The origin of this picture can only
be conjectured from a partial heading on a strip at the top of the image,
showing it to be page "50" of a Siebrecht and Wadley trade catalog. More
information becomes evident from the printing on the butchered-and-glued
reverse of the page by holding it up to a light and reading through the
back of the nearly opaque herbarium sheet. The reverse of the sheet bears
an undated list of Nepenthes for sale by the Siebrecht & Sons
nursery, and also has a woodcut drawing of N. hookeriana.
Neither the N. x morganiana nor N. hookeriana drawings
are cited in the venerable Index Londinensis guide to illustrations. Later
it was ascertained, through research in the Horticulture Library of the
Smithsonian Institution, that the plants were being sold by Siebrecht
& Son at Rose Hill Nurseries, located in New Rochelle, New York. The
source of that data was extrapolated from Siebrecht & Son (1897),
a publication which is not, however, one of the annual descriptive trade
catalogs which they produced over many years, and in which the catalog-illustration
in question was published; that date remains unknown. The general list
of stove and greenhouse plants from the 1897 publication reveals that
Siebrecht & Son (established 1867) stocked 36 species, varieties and
hybrids of Nepenthes, offering N. x morganiana for
$3.50 to $5.00 each. The Siebrecht name is commemorated in the hybrid
Nepenthes x siebrechtiana Siebrecht & Wadley [Cat.: 51. 1889]
ex Miller, Cycl. Amer. Hort. 3: 1074 (1901), a plant with the parentage
of N. mirabilis x (N. gracilis x N. khasiana). Siebrecht
& Son (1897) noted it was "one of the grandest new hybrids yet introduced,
a free and vigorous grower, producing its immense pitchers freely."
As previously noted, in 1864 Taplin relinquished his position at Chatsworth,
and emigrated to the United States and the Such establishment. There,
he produced numerous tropical plants and often exhibited them at Madison
Square Garden in New York City when the New York Horticultural Society
was holding its shows there. While employed by Such, he made many Nepenthes
hybrids (Such, 1881), and most of these new entities were brought into
the British nursery trade through sales of seedlings to Mr. Alfred Outram
(1847--1899), a traveling representative for the Benjamin S. Williams
firm of Upper Holloway, London. With the exception of N. x morganiana
(see Appendix below), the only Taplin hybrid not given a Williams
launching for overseas sales would appear to have been N. x atrosanguinea,
which was, like Mrs. Morgan's Nepenthes, also brought into London
commerce by the Veitch company.
By a curious twist of fate, the only Nepenthes named in honor
of Mr. Taplin, the hybrid N. x taplinii Hort. ex Miller,
Cycl. Amer. Hort. 3: 1074 (1901), is or was a hybrid of unknown parentage.
James Taplin published several articles on plants other than Nepenthes,
including the two listed below from 1891. A relative of his, W.H. Taplin
residing in Holmesburg, Pennsylvania, perhaps his son, was also a gardener
and horticulturist but a much more prolific writer, among whose numerous
articles is one on Sarracenia (Taplin, W.H., 1890).
James Taplin died at age 61 on January 9, 1892 at his home in Maywood,
New Jersey, of bronchial pneumonia brought on by an attack of influenza
(Anonymous, 1892). In addition to an obituary in American Florist (not
seen) and the two cited below as Anonymous (1892), his passing was remarked
in a Nepenthes article by W.H. Taplin (1892), who stated that "many
of the first and finest hybrids on this side of the water were originated
by the late James Taplin, who crossed several species 16 or 18 years ago."
Taplin's destiny had carried him a long way from the village of Overton
in Hampshire where he was born, going through a series of increasingly
important gardening positions on fine English estates which would culminate
at Chatsworth as Paxton's successor, and leading across the Atlantic to
New Jersey where he created the Nepenthes hybrids. After Mr. Such
went out of business and disposed of his plant stock in 1879, Taplin purchased
a farm in Maywood, New Jersey and resided there with his family until
his death, where he worked until the end as a wholesale plant grower for
the New York market, specializing in hardy flowering shrubs.
Nepenthes Hybrids made by J. Taplin at the Such Firm
(Extracted mostly from Macfarlane, 1908)
N. x atrosanguinea Masters, Gard. Chron. 17: 826 (1882).
(Probably N. distillatoria x N. x sedenii)
N. x coccinea Hort. ex Masters, Gard. Chron. 18: 169 (1882).
(N. hookeriana x N. phyllamphora)
N. x compacta Hort. ex Baines, Garden 27: 496 (1885).
(N. hookeriana ? x N. phyllamphora)
N. x dormanniana Williams ex Masters, Gard. Chron. 17:
525 (1882). (Probably N. mirabilis x N. x sedenii)
N. x excelsior Williams, Garden 28: 463 (1885). (N.
rafflesiana x N. hookeriana)
N. x findlayana Hort. ex Nicholson, Dict. Gard. Suppl.
572 (1988). (Advertised in Williams Cat. 23 (1886), and therefore possibly
a Taplin hybrid; parentage unrecorded)
N. x henryana Williams, Ill. Hort. 29: 125 (1882). (N.
hookeriana x N. x sedenii)
N. x hibberdii Nicholson, Dict. Gard. Suppl. 572 (1888).
(N. x hookeriana x N. x sedenii)
N. x hookerae Hort. ex G. Beck, Wien. Ill. Gartenztg.
20:222 (1895). (N. rafflesiana x N. mirabilis)
N. x lawrenciana Masters, Gard. Chron. 14: 40 (1880).
(Probably N. phyllamphora x N. hookeriana)
N. x morganiana Hort. Veitch ex Masters, Gard. Chron.
16: 381 (1881). (Probably N. phyllamphora x N. hookeriana.
It was originally given the trade name morganiana by G. Such (1881)
in honor of Mrs. Morgan of New York, to whom he sold a plant, and she
in turn gave the specimen to a visiting sales representative of Messrs.
Veitch & Sons, whereupon it was displayed by the Veitch nursery in
Chelsea, London in 1881; a leaf with pitcher is depicted in The Garden
23(602): pl. 390, opp. p. 492 (1883). Cuttings from the original plant
were being sold through the Such (New Jersey) catalogue in 1881.)
N. x outramiana Williams, Gard. Chron. 12: 505 (1879).
(Probably N. x sedenii x N. hookeriana)
N. x paradisae Hort. ex Nicholson, Dict. Gard. Suppl.
573 (1888). (N. hookeriana ? x N. phyllamphora. Named
for the Benjamin Williams firm, known as Victoria and Paradise Nurseries,
in Upper Holloway, London, and displayed there in 1883)
N. x robusta Hort. ex Masters, Gard. Chron. 17: 40 (1880).
(N. phyllamphora x N. hookeriana)
N. x superba Williams, Garden 18: 624 (1880). (N. gracilis
x N. sedenii) x N. hookeriana)
N. x williamsii Masters, Gard. Chron. 14: 40 (1880). (Probably
N. x sedenii x N. hookeriana)
Acknowledgements: I am very grateful to Ruth F. Schallert, Marca L. Woodhams,
Stanwyn G. Shetler, and Dan H. Nicolson for their guidance in locating
literature references and other assistance, and to Shirley L. Maina for
accompanying me on a visit to the U.S. Botanic Garden.
A note from the editors: Modern nomenclature for Nepenthes has
changed since Taplins day. The following is a list of the plant
names used by Taplin, followed by the correct modern or hybrid names in
parentheses: N. dominiana (N. x dominiana), N. hookeri
(N. x hookeriana), N. hookeriana (N. x hookeriana),
N. laevis (N. gracilis), N. mastersiana (N.
x mastersiana), N. pattersonii (N. x pattersonii),
N. phyllamphora (N. mirabilis), N. x sedenii (N.
Anonymous, 1892 (January 13), Notes, Garden and Forest, New York, 5(203):
Anonymous, 1892 (February 13), James Taplin, The Gardeners' Chronicle,
ser. 3, 11(268): 215.
Barber, L. 1980, The Heyday of Natural History, London: Jonathan Cape.
Eyde, R.H. 1985, Expedition botany: the making of a new profession, pp.
25--41, in Viola, H.J. and C. Margolis, eds., Magnificent Voyagers: The
U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842. 303 pp. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian
Eyde, R.H. 1986, William Rich of the Great U.S. Exploring Expedition
and how his shortcomings helped botany, Huntia 6(2): 165-196.
Heeps, A.P. 1968, On the life and greater achievements of Sir Joseph
Paxton at Chatsworth, country seat of the Dukes of Devonshire, Morris
Arboretum Bulletin 19(1): 8--13.
Macfarlane, J.M. 1908, Nepenthaceae, Das Pflanzenreich IV, 111: 1--92.
Macfarlane, J.M. 1916, Nepenthes, in Bailey, L.H., The Standard
Cyclopedia of Horticulture 4: 2122--2130. New York and London: Macmillan.
Markham, V.R. 1935, Paxton and the Bachelor Duke, 350 pp. London: Hodder
& Stoughton Ltd.
Paxton, J. 1838, Nepenthes distillatoria, Paxton's Magazine of
Botany 4: 1--4.
Siebrecht & Son. 1897, New Rare and Beautiful Plants, 64 pp. A.T.
De La Mare Printing and Publishing Co. Ltd., Rhinelander Building, New
Such, G. 1881 (October 15), Nepenthes morganiana, The Garden 20:
Taplin, J.P. 1891 (May 20), Aeschynanthus, Garden and Forest,
New York, 4(169): 236. (Gesneriaceae)
Taplin, J.P. 1891 (July 1), Rogiera gratissima, Garden and Forest,
New York, 4(175): 309. (Rubiaceae)
Taplin, W.H. 1890 (September 17), Sarracenia, Garden and Forest,
New York, 3: 456.
Taplin, W.H. 1892 (April 6), Nepenthes, Garden and Forest, New
York, 5 (215): 163--164.
Figure 1: N. x henryana photographed by B. Bednar.
Figure 2: A old illustration from a Siebrecht and Wadley catalogue.
Figure 3: N. x morganiana, grown by P. DAmato,
photographed by B. Rice.