Blume the Botanist

1862  Today is the Anniversary of the death of the German-Dutch botanist with the perfect last name - Carl Ludwig Blume. Born in Germany and orphaned by the age of five, Blume proved to be a bright little boy and a successful student. He studied at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands - a place that would become his Northstar. When he died in Leiden, on this day in 1862, he had become a naturalized Dutch citizen.
Scholastically, Blume went the path of most botanists. He first became a physician and he ran an apothecary. In short order, he started botanizing in the Dutch East Indies, specifically on the island of Java, where he was the director of the Botanic Garden. Blume wrote a spectacular book on the collection of orchids that were available on the island. The title page is stunning and it features three native women from Java performing a ceremonial dance. The mountains of Java in the village are in the background, and a garland of orchids frames the stunning portrait. This publication is considered one of the finest works of scientific literature during the early 1800s.
In 1825, Blume established the Dendrobium genus of orchids. The genus name is derived from the Greek; "dendron" for tree and "bios" meaning life. The name refers to the epiphytic habit of orchids to grow in trees. Thus, the combination of those two words, dendron and bios, meaning tree-life.
And, here's a great story about Blume. During his time in Java, Blume saw what he thought was a group of moths flying in a motionless fashion by a tree. It was an odd vision. But, when he got closer, Blume realized what he thought were moths, were actually orchid flowers. Blume named the species Phalaenopsis amabilis (fayl-eh-NOP-sis ah-MA-bo-lis). In nature, the stems of the phalaenopsis orchid are not clipped to a bamboo pole like they are in when we buy them in the supermarket. Instead, they arch away from the tree they are attached to and sway easily with the Wind. It was the motion of the Orchid flowers swaying in the wind together, that lead Blume to believe he saw an insect and not a blossom.
The etymology of the word phalaenopsis comes from the Latin word "phal", which means moth - which is why this Orchid is commonly referred to as the Moth Orchid.
Phalaenopsis orchids are native to Southeast Asia. Their popularity has steadily grown because they are so easy to grow and because they bloom indoors all year round. This makes them one of the most popular house plants in the world.
Now, should you be tempted this summer to move your phalaenopsis orchid outside; think twice. Just because they are a tropical plant, doesn’t mean they want full sun. Phalaenopsis orchids grow in the shade of trees under the tree canopy. They like indirect light, and if you put them in full sun, they will get sunburned. If you are going to move them outside, make sure to put them in a place where they will not get direct sunlight. Sometimes I’ll put mine onto my north-facing covered porch.
In 1853, Carl Ludwig Blume discovered another popular plant in the mountains of Java: coleus. Coleus bluemei was named in his honor until it was changed in 2006 to Coleux x Hybridus in recognition of all the new hybrid variations. As of 2012, the botanical name for coleus is Plectranthus scutellarioides (Plek-TRAN-thus SKOO-til-air-ee-OY-deez).
And, coleus are in the mint or Lamiaceae family. They have that signature square stem and opposite leaves - along with other popular members of the mint family: basil, peppermint, oregano, Salvia, Swedish ivy, and thyme. An early nickname for coleus was painted nettle or flame nettle.
Coleus is easy to propagate from cuttings. You can simply pop them in a glass of water, and in a few days, roots will start to form. To encourage your coleus to grow in a more compact fashion, keep pruning them before they bloom.
You might remember that the National Garden Bureau made 2015 the year of the coleus.
 


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Carl Ludwig Blume
Carl Ludwig Blume