Sunday, 30 March 2008

Carl Ludwig Sprenger

Carl Ludwig Sprenger was a German botanist, born on 30 November 1846 at Güstrow, Mecklembourg and died 13 December 1917 on the island of Corfu.

Canna (Italian Group) 'Austria', Sprenger 1893

Sprenger lived in Naples from 1877 to 1917, and was a partner in the horticultural house of Dammann & Co. of San Giovanni a Teduccio, Naples, Italy. David Fairchild praised Sprenger, "a brilliant botanist who had established a nursery...he was one of those real plantsmen who both know the names of plants and how to grow them. Sprenger was known to roam mountain sides and meadows. He enthusiastically collected seeds for botanical gardens and freely gave of his knowledge to others.

The eruption of Vesuvius [April 4, 1906] buried his plants under volcanic ash, destroying hundreds of his best specimens." Sprengers' life was in ruins.

In 1907, Kaiser Wilhelm (William II) purchased Achilleion, a garden with a palace on Corfu (Kerkyra). Sprenger became supervisor of the Kaiser's garden.

Sprenger's life had had no sound; Fairchild wrote that he was "very deaf". Perhaps he loved plants so much because they spoke in colours, shapes, and scents. In the end, he did not even have flowers. The man who surrounded himself with plants died December 13, 1917, a hostage of war. Being German and living on a Greek island in the middle of the First World War was high-risk, but at 70 years of age he was not prepared to leave behind his beloved plants and move to another country. Nobody was able to establish what really happened, but it is hard to see what threat a 71 year old, deaf, botanist posed that justified his murder.

Canna (Italian Group) 'Italia', Sprenger 1893

Sprenger had concluded that by constantly interbreeding the large flowered Crozy varieties nothing novel or more remarkable could be secured, and he, therefore, experimented with some new blood, employing for this purpose the Canna flaccida, a species of the southern USA, of medium height and large flowers, with one specially developed petal. The result was what became known as the 'Orchid' Cannas or the 'Italian' Cannas. A few years later, Luther Burbank in the USA pursued a similar approach.

  • 1893, Canna 'Italia' and Canna 'Austria'
  • 1894, Canna 'Atalanta', Canna 'America', Canna 'Burgundia' and Canna 'Allemaniana'
  • 1895, Canna 'Bavaria', Canna 'Britannia' , Canna 'Heinrich Seidel'
  • 1896, Canna 'Pandora'
  • 1897, Canna 'Edouard André', Canna 'Parthénopé' and Canna 'Roma'
  • 1907, Canna 'Wilhelm Bofinger', Canna 'Pluto'
  • 1909, Canna 'Roi Humbert'

Sprenger also created and named 122 beautiful Yucca hybrids in the years from 1897 to 1907.



  2. Interestingly, most sources have flaccida as the seed parent, and Madame Crozy as the pollen parent.

    I intend to replicate the cross, but was anticipating using them opposite. Now, I will rethink, or perhaps do it both ways.

    Something to take into account, flaccida is the only Canna to open its flowers in the evening, so pollen would have to be collected in the morning and applied to flaccida in the evening. None of the flaccida offspring inherited that characteristic.

  3. Malcolm, I've a pot of 'Roma' sitting on the edge of our patio and have noticed it opens it's flowers just as the sun sets. They are fully open whilst there is still enough light for photographs in our longish dusks. The speed from which they progress from cracked bud to dinner plate flower is quite amazing. This patio is in afternoon shade. 'Roma' growing out in the full sun doesn't open its flowers as quickly and they are usually not fully flat until mid morning of the following day, but they are open enough to be attractive to night moths as soon as it is dark.

    Luther Burbank's C. flaccida cross 'Burbank' also does this but they are not fully reflexed until the next morning's first rays of sun.

    Can't say I've studied the flower opening habits of other Italian Group hybrids, but I was cruising my stock beds by torchlight a couple of months ago and was amazed at the clouds of moths around the Italians. These were proving far more attractive to the moths than the Crozy Group and early Foliage Group cannas which didn't seem to be attracting any visitors at all. This could indicate a fresh food source such as pollen was available from the C. flaccida descendants once it was dark. The bees and ants are very busy during the daylight hours and by afternoon pollen is very hard to find on any Canna.


  4. Thanks Dale,

    That's another myth dispensed with!

    Might also account for the overall low pollen fertility of the Italian Group, if it is collected in the morning, as I have always done.