Robert John Thornton

Temple of Flora

Today is the anniversary of the death of the English physician and botanical writer Robert John Thornton.
Robert adored Carl Linnaeus. He was a huge fan. When Robert wrote his book called “The Temple of Flora,” he dedicated it to Linnaeus. Robert wanted his book to be the very best illustrated botanical book ever made, and his goal was that it would be a memorialization of Linnaeus’ work.
Robert’s idea was to have 70 large plates of exotic plants that would be organized according to Linnaeus’s classification system. Another unique aspect of Robert’s illustration concept was that the plants would appear in their native environment. Unfortunately, after working with the very best illustrators of his time, Robert had to stop production on the Temple book after only twenty-eight plant illustrations. He ran out of money, and the project stalled. Yet, even in its unfinished state, it remains one of the most excellent compilations of botanical illustrations that has ever been created. Although Robert was overly ambitious with his goals for the “Temple of Flora,” the work is still considered to be arguably one of the loveliest botanically Illustrated books in the world.
The most famous engraving in the book is of a night-blooming cereus cactus plant. The bloom takes up almost the entire width of the image, and in the background (in the dark), you can see the ruins of a castle. The night-blooming cereus is known as "The Queen of the Night."
The flowers of the night-blooming cereus don't last long, but they are stunning. The night-blooming cereus is native to Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. Most people would be surprised to know a cereus cactus can get to be ten feet tall. Outside the Southwest, the cereus is generally grown as a houseplant.
If you're waiting for your cereus plant to bloom, just know that it won't start flowering until it's at least five years old. Initially, you may only get one or two blooms for a few years. That said, once you do get a flower, you will be in love because the bloom is seven inches across, and the scent is heavenly.

This post was featured on
The Daily Gardener podcast:

helping gardeners find their roots,
one story at a time
Robert John Thornton
Robert John Thornton

Leave a Comment