Treasure of the Incas
James O’Brien, one of the most famous horticulturists of the late 1800s, was an expert on orchids, particularly the large-flowered Cattleya species. He was secretary to the Royal Horticultural Society’s Orchid Committee, advisor to the editors of The Gardeners’ Chronicle, and frequently assisted the botanist H.G. Reichenbach in his botanical deliberations. When Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, awarded the first Victoria Medal of Honor in Horticulture (VMH), she presented it to James O’Brien.
The Old-Gold Kid
Deep in the tangled jungles of tropical Brazil, among the many wandering tributaries of the Amazon Basin, lies the fabled land of El Dorado. The appetites of the Spanish conquistadors for the elusive riches of this “Land of Gold,” was worth risking a kingdom — or even their lives — to find. For the plant hunters of the mid-1800s, El Dorado was the realm of stinging insects, biting ants, bloodsucking bats, swarms of flies, clouds of mosquitoes, malaria, dysentery and the promise of the golden treasure of a new Cattleya species.
For over 24 years after its discovery in 1866, Cattleya dowiana reigned supreme in the genus as the only yellow-petal species. It was considered the most beautiful cattleya of its day by far, and it soon became the species most widely used in breeding the large flowered hybrids.