War trees and orchids

After a talk I gave to Janet Clarke Hall alumni recently I was asked by a guest if I could encourage the Shrine to reinstate the avenue of Lombardy Poplars (Populus nigra 'Italica'; illustrated here in a picture found on the web copyrighted to our botanic garden) leading down towards St Kilda Road. I gather they were removed during one of Melbourne's recent droughts and are no longer thought to be a suitable tree for our impending climate (confirmed later by a 2010 article from The Age).

Fast growing, hardy and 'a most dangerous tree' (see this article written by Christina Wood for the Arnold Arboretum) the Lombardy Polars all derive from a sport collected beside the Po River in Lombardy, Italy. It has become synonymous with war time service due to its popularity in Europe as a country avenue tree - remembered from France during the first World War and possibly even near Po River in the second World War.

There are other trees with war connections. Perhaps the best known is the Gallipoli Oak (specially selected Quercus coccifer subspecies calliprinos), which is grown near the Shrine. We will plant an offspring from this tree in the botanic gardens shortly as a symbolic link between our two institutions (the Shrine and Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne) and to honour those who fought in the Great War.

This particular tree is a descendant of those planted by Captain William Lempriere Winter-Cooke on his family's property near Hamilton. Winter-Cooke was one of a number of soldiers, including General Monash, who brought home acorns collected during the Gallipoli campaign.

As a gesture of remembrance and learning, the National Trust is propagating two thousand Quercus coccifer for planting in Victorian primary schools between 2015 and 2018. The illustration above is from the Shrine of Remembrance website devoted to this project.

Then there is the Mentone Orchid, Pterostylis toveyana. Not familiar with the war connection of this transient hybrid orchid? Well it's a bit tenuous and relates to its namesake, James Tovey, pictured here with John Harkins and relatives in 1910 (from Kingston Historical Website).

Tovey was a botanist who at the age of 16 started work with the then Government Botanist of Victoria, Ferdinand Mueller. He eventually became Chief Assistant at the National Herbarium of Victoria, discovering along the way a rare orchid in Mentone (near where he lived).

More pertinent to this post, though, in 1921 he prepared a list of Australian native plants that could be grown around war graves in Gallipoli. Just recently Jim Fogarty (current President of the Horticultural Media Association of Victoria) told me about an ancestor of Tovey who is chasing up some family history, and this list of plants.

James Tovey died in 1923, at the age of 49, after being paralysed for the last few years of his life. His daughters apparently wheeled him into the Herbarium so he could continue working up to his death. You can find out more about James Tovey (particularly his connection with the Harkins family - he married one) at the the Kingston Historical Website.

Unrelated to orchids and war, but still with Mr Tovey, I can tell you his family home was an imported 'pre-fab' from China, which he named Viola. I gather from my readings that Viola was erected firstly in Collingwood, then Mentone, and after his death, back in Collingwood. It may even remain today in the land of my footy team, the Pies.

[And no I don't have a picture of Pterostylis x toveyana, and after borrowing all three of the images above from the web already I can't bear to include another from that source!]


Anonymous said…
I found a few of these Red Admiral butterflies in the same location on an ivy bush, which is a favourite of this species.Trees-Plants Nursery
Unknown said…
I loved your article Tim , I am great grandnephew of James Toveys father and a nurseryman / breeder in Ireland. I had been trying to find out more about James but came to a dead end a few years back. However I did manage to get seeds of the Mentone Orchid eventually for some really wonderful horticulturists in Victoria. I gave some to our National Botanic Gardens in Dublin. I was aware James had worked in someway putting together the Galipoli collection but never really learned much more of his input or extent. I was happy to come across this piece and would like to thank Jim Fogarty for mentioning my intrrest.

Kind regards,
Talking Plants said…
Hi Pat,
Great to get your feedback and to make a direct connection. Getting seed of that orchid was good effort and it's nice to think of it growing in Glasnevin (a botanic garden I've visited a couple of times, with pleasure). In fact I'm at the moment listening to a podcast of Joyce's Ulysses (which will run for many decades) and they are up the burial at the cemetery in that area at the moment... So many connections.
Best wishes, Tim