- By Eduard de Vogel
- Posted May 26, 2016
At the Hortus botanicus Leiden, as early as 1596, the famous European Slipper Orchid, Cypripedium calceolus (which is not a native species in the Netherlands) was already in cultivation. Actually it is probably more accurate to say that Cypripedium calceolus was planted in 1596 - whether it survived the cultivation techniques of those days for very long seems doubtful.
Tropical orchids were introduced in the Hortus in the eighteenth century, three 'Epidendrum' species being present in 1740, as we know from a contemporary book. A catalogue of the garden published in 1831 includes about 40 orchid species. Soon afterwards the number of cultivated orchids in the Hortus started to grow explosively, in line with the fashion of cultivating orchids in several other European countries at that time, England in particular. During the nineteenth century three special orchid catalogues were issued by the Hortus, in 1848, 1862 and 1888. The first lists about 294 species; the second 515, while the last enumerates no less than 720 species. As is often the case with botanical gardens the personal interests of the curator determines to a large extent the nature of the collection. This definitely applied to Leiden, where Heinrich Witte was hortulanus (curator) from 1855 until 1898. Witte was very fond of orchids and with the support of his Prefects (directors) he managed to bring together a fine collection, of which the 1862 and 1888 catalogues are a lasting reminder.
After his retirement a period of decline followed. In 1938 only about 300 orchid species were being grown. In that year the old hothouses, dating from the previous century, were demolished and replaced by the greenhouse complex that still stands today. In the year 1997 two extensions have been added to accommodate the orchid collection which was greatly expanded due to fieldwork carried out in relation to orchid revisions at the former Rijksherbarium. A major renovation of the greenhouse complex took place in 2012 and 2013. The renovated greenhouses were officially opened by H.M. Queen Máxima together with Rector Prof. Dr. Carel Stolke, photo Petra Sonius.
In appreciation of her activities an orchid was named after her:
Since about 1980, orchids have again become one of the focal points in the collection of the Hortus botanicus Leiden. This was a direct result of the taxonomic research on Southeast Asian orchids for Flora Malesiana that was initiated at the Rijksherbarium. Many dozens of expeditions were undertaken by staff members from both Rijksherbarium and Hortus botanicus Leiden to collect living specimens for taxonomic research, either on joint field trips or as activities organised by one of these institutes. With the vital support of staff from sister institutes in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Malaysia (Sabah, Sarawak, and Malay Peninsula) and Brunei Darussalam the Hortus was able to enrich its orchid collection tremendously.
From 1971 till 2012, next to general botanical collecting, Ed de Vogel as Curator Orchidaceae at the Herbarium was actively collecting orchids for taxonomic study for Flora Malesiana, in Indonesia and other countries of the Flora Malesiana region. He made more than 10.000 herbarium collections including many orchids, where possible in 8 sets, and around 15.000 collections of live orchids. For this purpose he made about 45 field trips amounting together to 14.5 years working in Southeast Asia, of which some 7.5 years working (and often camping) in the tropical rain forest. On the web page of activities of Ed de Vogel an account is given of his field work carried out for the project "Flora Malesiana: Orchids of New Guinea".
In 1990, an expedition, sponsored by Mrs. Tineke Roelfsema and Dr. Dirk Mulder, was carried out in Papua New Guinea, in which André Schuiteman took part on behalf of the Rijksherbarium and Art Vogel on behalf of the Hortus. Living plants were brought to Leiden which were collected in cooperation with the Forest Research Institute in Lae. During this expedition several rare and even some undescribed species were found and collected for the botanical gardens in Port Moresby and Leiden, which could later be photographed and described for the first time from specimens grown in the HbL, for example Dryadorchis huliorum, Bulbophyllum hoyifolium, Bulbophyllum ustusfortiter
... and others.
Between 2003 and 2012 Ed de Vogel visited 46 different localities in PNG and succeeded in obtaining around 7500 live orchids for cultivation in National Capital Botanic Gardens Port Moresby and Hortus botanicus Leiden. So far some 70 new species were described based on plants collected during these expeditions, for example a.o. the very beautiful Dryadorchis dasystele
the interesting Bulbophyllum nocturnum J.J.Verm., de Vogel, Schuit. & A. Vogel (which is the only known orchid which flowers at night), photo Rogier van Vugt.
Bulbophyllum macneiceae Schuit. & de Vogel, named after the principal sponsor of the Orchids of New Guinea project. Lady McNeice, Singapore, photo Ed de Vogel.
Bulbophyllum tindemansianum J.J.Verm., de Vogel & A. Vogel, photo Ed. de Vogel
The orchid collection currently (2016) comprises some 6000 orchid plants representing c. 3000 different species.
In contrast with former times, when very little research was carried out using the collection except occasionally describing a new species, the Hortus botanicus Leiden is currently an extremely important source of material for taxonomists and molecular scientists working on orchids, not only in the Netherlands, but from all over the world. Recent developments have still more increased the scientific value of living plant collections such as those kept at the Hortus. Most countries in the tropics have now banned the export of living orchids even for the purpose of pure scientific research, while at the same time the destruction of the habitats in those countries continues, as it seems, inexorably. The result of this policy will be that with the forests the orchids will disappear as well, and what is worse, they will vanish unnoticed, undocumented, leaving no trace for posterity. It is to be feared that for many orchid species the herbarium will one day be the only place where, if at all, they can still be found: dried or pickled and utterly dead and extinct.