Archives For library exhibitions

Drop by the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library to see rare book illustrations of hand-colored orchids in Asia that give a new perspective to Asia in Bloom: The Orchid Show. 

Of all the rare orchid books in the library’s collection, it’s a challenge to select illustrations for an exhibition to complement the Garden’s annual Orchid Show. Since the Orchid Show is so colorful, featuring 10,000 orchids in bloom, we usually try to showcase things that really pop. And although there are some extraordinarily colored illustrations in the library’s free rare books exhibition Asian Orchids Illustrated, I wanted to focus on the scientific and historical aspects of the works.

Displayed in the first case of Asian Orchids Illustrated is a rare 1874 volume of Japanese physician Yokusai Iinuma’s botanical encyclopedic compendium, Shintei Somoku Zusetsu. It features a partially hand-colored illustration of the orchid Cypripedium japonicum, which can be found in China, Japan, and Korea. The plant has been used in China to treat malaria, snake bites, and lower back pain.

Also featured are three oversized tomes of the Annals of the Royal Botanical Garden, Calcutta, featuring partially hand-colored orchid plates by Indian artists and lithographers. The orchids featured in this case are Dendrobium densiflorum; the leaves are ground into a paste and used for bone-setting in India, and Goodyera biflora, which is used for tuberculosis, as an anti-inflammatory, and for snake bites.

Dendrobium densiflorum

Dendrobium densiflorum

Goodyera biflora

Goodyera biflora

And finally, the third case contains six different volumes showcasing the interesting history of the Rothschild slipper orchid, often claimed to be one of the most expensive and sought-after orchids of our time. This poor orchid has been through the proverbial ringer, so to speak. Not only has it had its name changed without being consulted, from Cypripedium Rothschildiana to Paphiopedilum Rothschildianum, but it has been often mistaken for other species of orchids, has been misrepresented by collectors, and has had its bloom time genetically modified. Lastly, but most importantly, it has been to the brink of extinction. On display at the Orchid Show is a hybrid Paphiopedilum that’s related to the Rothschild’s slipper orchid.

On Sunday, February 25, and Tuesday, February 27, the Lenhardt Library hosts  a free talk at 2 p.m. about these extraordinary books that contain orchidaceous history on their beautifully illustrated and typeset pages. After the talk, you will be invited to view a few more “orchid-delectables” in the library’s Rare Book Room.    

©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and

During the Age of Botanical Exploration, there were no journals, workbooks, or even articles on newly discovered plants. As more and more tropical and foreign plants were brought back to Europe, there was an explosive interest in these plants, but no documentation on the growing culture or uses had been provided.

That is, not until (Curtis’s) The Botanical Magazine began publication in 1787. This exciting new publication contained three to four scientifically accurate hand-colored engravings and descriptions of each plant, including information about cultivation and growth habit.

Library Talk on Sunday, November 5, at 2 p.m.

Mrs. Hodgson’s Rhododendron (Rhododendron hogsonii)

ILLUSTRATION: Rhododendron hogsonii.

Discovered in Bhotan, Eastern Himalayas, 1832.
1866, Vol. 92, Plate 5552
Artist: Walter Hood Fitch (1817–72)

Curtis’s ran without competition until 1815, when one of the chief illustrators, Sydenham Edwards, left the magazine and began the Botanical Register in 1815, paving  the way for even more, although short-lived, botanical journals.

But Curtis’s Botanical Magazine holds the claim as the longest running botanical magazine. The Chicago Botanic Garden is celebrating that accomplishment with an exhibition, Curtis’s: The Longest Running Botanical Magazine, through January 21, 2018, in the Lenhardt Library. A free talk will take place at 2 p.m. November 5 in the Lenhardt Library. There will be an opportunity to view the first volume of The Botanical Magazine from 1787, as well as other volumes of Curtis that are not included in the exhibition.

About once every quarter, I receive a call from my colleague Christine Schmid, who is the Library Technical Services Librarian who manages serial subscription renewals here at the Lenhardt Library. That call always begins, with “Hi, Stace, Curtis is here.” I gleefully unearth myself from six tons of paper and reference questions and go and take a look. Each time, I am amazed at the production quality and the longevity of a journal that features plant portraits reproduced from watercolor originals by leading international botanical artists, highly defined photographs, and detailed articles that combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation, and economic uses of the plants described.

The Moutan, or Chinese Tree Peony (Paeonia Moutan)

ILLUSTRATION: Paeonia moutan

1809, Vol. 29 Plate 1154
Artist: Sydenham Edwards (1769–1819)

The Botanical Magazine, as it was called on its London debut in 1787, was published by William Curtis in response to a public demand for more information on all the new plants reaching the British Isles from ongoing botanical explorations. Curtis, the former apothecary demonstrator at the Chelsea Physic Garden and creator of the Flora Londinensis, earned his “bread and butter” as he referred to it, with the publication of the magazine. The magazine popularized and encouraged the cultivation of these newly discovered plants and influenced generations of gardeners and nurserymen on the way in which the plants could be maintained or propagated. 

The magazine was not only filled with the most scientifically accurate text on the plants, but each plant was also scientifically illustrated by master botanical illustrators. Featured in the exhibition are hand-colored engraving by Sydenham Edwards (1769–1819), Walter Hood Fitch (1817–72), John Nugent Fitch (1840–1927), and the first director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, William Jackson Hooker (1785–1865).

In addition to the exhibition and free Library Talk, the Lenhardt Library has a full run of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine. Issues are available for consultation upon request only. The magazine is now published for the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, United Kingdom.

©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and

One of the reasons I love being a librarian is that I learn something new almost every day.

When a book catalog featuring Illustrated Historical Universal Ampelography: Grape Varieties from Around the World (published in 2012) landed on my desk, I went for a dictionary. I was completely taken with my new word of the day—“ampelography”—and its definition. My thoughts raced to placing this subject on my list for future rare book exhibitions.

The field of horticulture is full of very specific words meaning very precise things. Viticulture is the study of grapes and their production, and in this case, ampelography is the study of grapevines—not wine, but the vines and their grape varieties.

Ampelography: I Heard It Through the Grapevine is on view now through November 8, 2015, in the Lenhardt Library.

PHOTO: Dark purple grapes hang on the vine, just before harvest.

The vineyard at harvest time

My family visited California in August, and a visit to wine country was on my itinerary. I wanted to see grapes on their vines, not only in tasting rooms with delicious samples. It turns out that some of the history of California and United States vineyards can be traced through volumes in the Lenhardt Library’s Rare Book Collection.

The first book on winemaking in America, by John Adlum (1759–1836), was published in 1823. A Memoir on the Cultivation of the Vine in America, and the Best Mode of Making Wine emphasized the use of American rather than European grapes. Adlum cultivated Catawba grapes in the Washington, D.C., area. Native to the United States, Catawba grapes grew in a region that stretched from North Carolina to Maryland region.

Agoston Haraszthy (1812–69) established the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma, California, in 1857. It was the first commercial winery established in California. Haraszthy brought European viticulture methods with him from his native Hungary and established California viticulture. In 1862 he published Grape Culture, Wines, and Wine-Making: With Notes upon Agriculture and Horticulture as well as other essays on grape growing for the California State Agricultural Society (of which he was president in 1862).

Ed Valauskas, curator of rare books, will present a free library talk about the exhibition on Sunday, September 27, at 2 p.m.

ILLUSTRATIONS: Lithograph by G. Severeyns.

Lithograph by G. Severeyns

By the mid-1860s, Haraszthy’s vineyards were suffering from phylloxera, an aphid-like insect that feeds on roots of grapevines and stunts their growth. Phylloxera spread to Europe and decimated its wine industry. American disease-resistant grapevines were introduced in Europe to help eradicate the wide-spreading disease. Due to the art and science of grafting phylloxera-resistant rootstock, by the turn of the twentieth century, French viticulture recovered. The following two books describe the processes of grafting, and vine resistance to phylloxera:

  • La Laurencie, comte de. Pratique de Plantation et Greffage des Vignes Américaines (Planting and Grafting Practices of American Vines) Paris: Librairie Agricole de la Maison Rustique, 1895.
  • Millardet, Pierre-Marie-Alexis (1838–1902). Histoire des Principales Variétš et Espèces de Vignes d’Origine Américaine qui Resistent au Phylloxera (History of the Major Varieties and Species of Original American Vines Resistant to Phylloxera) Paris: G. Masson, 1885.

When opening a bottle of wine, connoisseurs and novices alike may evaluate the color, aroma, and taste. The vintner (winemaker) sees to the harvest, juicing, fermentation, storage, and bottling. Behind each bottle, however, the viticulturist considers many parameters from the soil, climate, fertilizer, disease and pest control, rootstock, vines, and varieties. It is all of these factors—and people—working together that determine the final product.

There is so much to appreciate with each sip!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and