Orchids containing the name loddigesii are named for a family that pioneered the collection, growing and sale of orchids in Britain in the 19th century.
(Joachim) Conrad Loddiges (1738–1826), a German who trained in horticulture in The Netherlands, emigrated to England and opened a plant nursery after purchasing a small seed and plant business from a fellow German émigré in 1771. The first Loddiges nursery catalogue appeared in 1777 and was trilingual (English, Latin and German).
Joachim Conrad Loddiges, pictured in England. Image: Geni
The nursery rose to prominence during the early 19th century under Conrad’s son George (1786–1846), who published from 1817-33 The Botanical Cabinet, a serial collection of 2000 coloured plates of rare plants introduced into its hothouses and gardens from around the world.
Maxillaria galeata from The Botanical Cabinet. The Mexican orchid is now known as Gongora galeata. Image: Wikimedia Commons
In 1818 the company erected the first gigantic, steam-heated palm house – 24 years before Kew got its famous palm house (later, when the nursery closed, all 300 Loddiges palms were sold to Joseph Paxton for his Crystal Palace and The Great Exhibition of 1851). The technology that Loddiges used for the building and the steam-heating system was revolutionary and – much to the of visitors – included ‘artificial rain’. By 1823 the nursery covered 6ha and probably contained the greatest collection of plants in the world!
At the time, the loss of plants being discovered around the world and sent to Europe was dramatic until the invention of Wardian cases – in effect, transportable greenhouses. “Whereas I used formerly to lose nineteen out of twenty of the plants I imported during the voyage, nineteen out of twenty is now the average of those that survive,” George is reported as saying. The inventor of the Wardian case, Dr Nathaniel Ward, was a customer at Loddiges Nursery and in an experiment to prove the value of the cases in 1833 he and George loaded two with ferns and grasses and sent them on the exposed deck of a ship to Sydney where they arrived in perfect condition. The next year the cleaned cases were filled with native Australian plants which had previously not survived shipping and successfully sent to Loddiges Nursery.
Habenaria orbiculata (now Platanthera orbiculata) from The Botanical Cabinet. Image: Wikimedia Commons
By the 1820s Conrad Loddiges & Sons Nursery had established an international reputation for tropical orchids. It was the first British nursery to employ collectors and was probably the first British firm to cultivate orchids commercially. Many orchids appeared in The Botanical Cabinet and by 1839 George Loddiges produced the firm’s first orchid catalogue, including 1024 different species in 25 genera. In 1844 the last orchid catalogue was published by Loddiges, including 1900 species. Read more about The Botanical Cabinet here (opens as a pdf).
At the time The Botanical Cabinet was published this orchid was Maxillaria deppii, but today is Lycaste deppei. Image: Wikimedia Commons
George Loddiges also linked the nursery into the scientific circles of the day, becoming a Fellow of the Microscopical Society (FMS), Fellow of the Linnean Society (FLS), Fellow of the Horticultural Society (FHS), and Fellow of the Zoological Society (FZS) in London. The nursery’s influence spread to the imperial gardens of St Petersburg in Russia and the first Botanical Gardens at Adelaide in South Australia in 1839, by John Bailey who started with Conrad Loddiges in 1815.
However, in 1852 the once-thriving business closed, partly due to rising land prices (Hackney Town Hall now stands on the site), partly due to rising air pollution as London encroached and partly due to competition. After closure, the nursery’s orchid collection was sold by auction in 1856 and 1857. Read more about the nursery here.
Stelis tubata from The Botanical Cabinet has many synonyms, including Physosiphon loddigesii and Pleurothallis tubata, but today is known as Stelis emarginata. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Several botanists named orchids to honour Conrad and George, including Acropera loddigesii (1833, now Gongora galeata) which George introduced from Mexico; Cattleya loddigesii (1821); Octomeria loddigesii (1837, now Octomeria graminifolia); Cycnoches loddigesii (1832) and Dendrobium loddigesii (1887?).