My Summer Vacation trip to Lambou Field, Florida

Back in the early 2000s, I printed out every exchange from the International Bulb Society email list that discussed the bulb genus, hymenocallis (spider lilies). Most conversations originated with Victor Lambou, who was obviously an authority on the genus. It’s now been years since the Bulb Society went defunct and I had lost track of Vic and his work. I, and others assumed that Victor had passed away and his plant collection had vanished, as is usually the case with keen specialty plant collectors, whose families don’t share the same passion or have an appreciation of the importance of their collections.

I was on the road visiting nurseries in late March, when I received a phone call that could best be described as horticulturally shocking. A friend from the American Iris Society was calling to share that they had been contacted to gauge their interest in the iris collection of a Florida plantsman, Victor Lambou, who was in declining health. “Had I ever heard of Vic”, they asked. That call set in motion a series of events that would culminate in a massive plant rescue this September.

Victor Lambou, 92, of Tallahassee, Florida (no relation to Curly Lambeau of the better-known Lambeau Field) is a well-known, retired Environmental Aquatic Biologist, who had a career with the EPA as a fish specialist. In his latter years, Victor became interested in native aquatic plants, primarily in the genus Iris and Hymenocallis. His career travels through swamps and bogs allowed him to locate and rescue several rare and significant plant species, as well as numerous variants within those species. His work in cultivating and later breeding these plants resulted in a botanically significant world class collection that is quite worthy of preservation.

Due to his advanced age, Victor had been unable to maintain his collection since 2017, and is now living in an assisted living facility. In August, after five months of working through the court system, the Florida Court system, with the approval of the trustee and Victor, granted us ownership of his entire plant collection.

The next step was a one-day scouting trip in late August to access what actually remained, the condition of the plants, and if a rescue was feasible. Not only were the plants still in great shape, but the project was much larger than I could possibly have imagined. The highlight, of course, was a chance to finally meet Victor in person and chat about his collection.

Victor’s plant collection consisted of approximately 2000 tubs of plants. Our visual rough estimate put the plant count to be between 30-40,000. Because of the aquatic nature of Victor’s plant collection, all plants were all grown in sealed-bottom tubs of mud, each weighing 60-100 lbs. Plants were meticulously arranged by block, row, and then position within the row. Victor’s last plant inventory in 2017, showed 617 unique plant taxa (taxa = genetically distinct individual). Were it not for Victor’s containerized system of growing plants aquatically, it’s doubtful that anything would have survived four years of neglect.

Lambou field plant collection
Lambou Field Plant Collections
Tubs of hymenocallis

Victor’s list included 407 taxa of hymenocallis, 138 taxa of iris, and 44 taxa of crinum, and a few assorted other plant genera.  To put Victor’s hymenocallis collection in perspective, the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), which maintains the world’s only global database of living plant collections in botanic gardens, only lists 118 hymenocallis taxa preserved in collections worldwide.  In other words, Victor had almost 3.4 times the worlds entire collection of hymenocallis is his backyard.

The Rescue

My initial assessment was followed by a full-fledged rescue in early September. JLBG staff members Amanda Wilkins (garden curator), and Zac Hill (plant records/taxonomist), and JC Raulston Arboretum director, Mark Weathington joined me for the 9 hour drive to Tallahassee, stopping briefly to pick up a 15′ U-Haul once we arrived in Florida.

We also extended invitations to 25 gardens/plant collectors. Of that group, 10 were able to participate. The botanical gardens/staff who participated and will be housing plants from Victor’s collections include:

Hayes Jackson   Longleaf Botanical Garden, AL

Pat Lynch              Bok Tower Gardens, FL

Mark Weathington          JC Raulston Arboretum, NC

Andy Cabe           Riverbanks Botanical Garden, SC

Todd Lasseigne Bellingrath Gardens, AL

Once we began the site rescue, we discovered that approximately 10% of the collections were no longer alive, leaving approximately 555 living taxa. Our rescue efforts were not focused on named cultivars of plant species that were already established in commerce (approximately 93 taxa), or un-identified taxa (approximately 24 taxa), or open pollinated seedlings (approximately 10 taxa). Consequently, rescue efforts were aimed at the 428 most important taxa.

Lambou field growing area

None of the tubs were labeled, but thankfully Victor had extensive bed maps, which the trustee made available. Without these, the plant collection would be botanically worthless. Two full days were spent extracting plants from the muddy tubs. We tried an array of extraction methods, but finally found it best to employ the back-breaking task of upturning each container and sift through the muck to extract the plants.

Small quantities of some varieties were labeled and stored in Ziploc bags, while larger quantities were stored in community pots.

Not only were the plants interesting, but Victor also had one of the larger collections of Lubber grasshoppers that I’ve ever encountered. These voracious critters seem to love the plants as much as we did. Of course, these protein filled insects reduced the need for frequent snack breaks. I’d always heard the slogan that Virginia is For Lovers, but little did I know that Florida is for Lubbers.

Eastern Lubber grasshopper.

Lambou field, plant extraction area

The rescue became slower and more challenging, when unbeknownst to us, Tropical Storm Mindy had formed virtually on top of us, during our second day of rescue. Consequently, there wasn’t a dry eye…or anything else in the place when we finished and loaded the U-Haul for the return trip.

Remaining tubs after extraction
Just pure muck.
Rescued plants ready to load for the return trip
A drenched Mark Weathington loading the last few items on the U-Haul.

Rescue team/plant relocations

The next phase of the rescue operation is scheduled for Sept 20, 2021. This will involve the Louisiana Iris Society Historical Preservation Group. This subgroup of the American Iris Society has species conservation stewards who will each house a replicated collection of Victor’s iris.  Of the 138 Iris taxa in Victor’s collection, there are 24 different taxa of the southeast native Iris hexagona. Currently, the Iris Preservation Network only has 6 taxa, so these are extremely valuable for conservation purposes. Juniper Level Botanic Garden also has a duplicate collection of Victor’s iris.

Summary

When the final phase of the rescue is complete, Victor’s plants will have been distributed to 9 botanical gardens and 5 private collectors gardens.  We have instructed these gardens to share with other gardens in appropriate climatic zones, so we feel confident that Victor’s collections will continue to be shared and conserved even more widely.

JLBG spent 392 labor hours on the rescue, including 76 hours on site at Victor’s garden. Our team from Juniper Level Botanic Garden was able to rescue 291 taxa. Taxa that were too tender to live outdoors in our Zone 7b, were sent to gardens in warmer climates. The total number of plants rescued and now housed at JLBG is 5000 plants. This does not include the additional collections which are housed at our sister institution, the JC Raulston Arboretum.

We were able to rescue 19 hymenocallis that Victor has selected and named, along with 3 of his named/selected Iris. Victor’s collection consisted of over 123 of his hymenocallis hybrids which are still in need of evaluation. These were rescued and have been planted in our research area here at JLBG. Any of these that prove to be distinct and exceptional will be propagated and introduced to the horticultural world, via our nursery division, Plant Delights Nursery.

Hymenocallis palmeri x rotata hybrid (V. Lambou)

Before the Lambou rescue, JLBG already grew 42 taxa of hymenocallis, which number has now swelled to 263, making it almost certainly the most extensive collection of hymenocallis taxa in the world.

We hope that this will be a model for the future for Botanical Gardens to collaborate to preserve these vitally important ex-situ private plant collections.

Lambou plant collection at JLBG

Celebrating Ferners

One of the fabulous ferns in our garden during the summer months is the sun-tolerant Dennstaedtia hirsuta ‘Sohuksan’. This fabulous specimen came to the US from a 1985 collection from Sohuksan Island, South Korea, where it was discovered by a team of intrepid plant explorers that included horticultural legends as Barry Yinger, the late Ted Dudley, the late J.C. Raulston, the late Peter Wharton, Young-june Chang and Kun-so Kim. The group had left the mainland for the several day ferry ride to this remote island, landing just ahead of a typhoon, which resulted in severe injuries disembarking from the ferry. After riding out the typhoon in minimal shelters, they awoke to a treasure trove of amazing plants. We are so glad to keep the memory of this amazing trip alive in gardens with some of their great plant introductions.

Alan’s Laosy Giant

The late plantsman Alan Galloway was a prolific plant collector in Southeastern Asia, and one of the plants that has surprised us with its winter hardiness is the giant evergreen Solomon’s Seal, Disporopsis longifolia. In the wild, Alan and I encountered this throughout Thailand and Vietnam, but our tallest clone is one which Alan collected in Laos, and we christened Disporopsis longifolia ‘Alan’s Laosy Giant’. Our clump, which has been in the garden since 2007 has topped 5′ in height and is in full flower this week. Sadly, it has yet to produce a single offset.

Gold Farkle

One of our treasured finds from a recent botanizing trip in East Texas with plantsmen Adam Black and Wade Roitsch (Yucca Do), was a gold-foliaged Vaccinium arboreum (farkleberry). The parent plant was 30-40′ tall, but there were plenty of root suckers from a recent road grading. This could turn out to be a wonderfully exciting new native edimental.

Rude Croatian

One of the gems from our 2012 botanizing trip to the Balkans, was a growable selection of Paris quadrifolia. For those who haven’t mastered Latin, quadrifolia means 4-leaves. All cultivated forms of this widespread European trillium relative had failed to thrive in our hot humid summers. Our collection from the Croatian town of Rude (I’m not making this up), has thrived, forming a lovely patch and even flowering. Hopefully, one day in the future, we’ll have enough to share.

Who is Walter Flory?

Flowering today at JLBG is Crinum ‘Walter Flory’…not only a superb crinum, but one named after one of NC’s pre-eminent botanists. Dr. Walter Flory (1907-1998) was a botany professor at Wake Forest University.

Dr. Flory received his PhD in 1931 from the University of Virginia for his work with both edible asparagus and phlox. From 1936 – 1944 (during WWII), Flory was a horticulturist for the Texas Experiment Station, where he bred a number of crops for the southern climate. It was here that Flory developed what would become a lifelong passion for members of the Amaryllis family. After eight years in Texas, Flory returned to his native Virginia, where he continued to climb the academic ladder, culminating in being named Director of the 700-acre Blandy Experimental Farm, which included the 130-acre Orlando White Arboretum. In this position, Flory was able to have graduate students carry on his research in the Amaryllid family.

In 1952, Flory made his first botanizing trip to Mexico, focusing on hymenocallis, zephyranthes, and sprekelia. Follow-up trips became more frequent and Flory regularly botanized both the Texas and Mexican sides of the US border. In short, Flory’s study and research into members of the Amaryllid family has greatly increased our understanding of this amazing group.

In 1963, after some significant arm-twisting, Flory accepted a new position as the Babcock Chair of Botany at Wake Forest University. There, he developed the first non-medical doctoral program at the University. With his reduced teaching load, and ability to travel worldwide for research and botanizing, Flory was able to publish much more amaryllid research.

The crinum below, which bears his name, was named and introduced by his good friend, plantswoman/nursery owner, Kitty Clint. What a shame that after offering this amazing crinum for a decade we only had a few people who every purchased it. At least, you now know what the late Paul Harvey called, “the rest of the story.”

Loss of a Phalloid Legend

We are saddened to announce the passing (May 12) of one of our closest friends, plantsman Alan Galloway, age 60. In addition to serving as an adjunct researcher for Juniper Level Botanic Garden, Alan was a close friend and neighbor, living less than two minutes from the garden/nursery.

Alan was a native North Carolinian, who grew up on a farm in Brunswick County, NC, where he developed his love for plants and the natural world. After graduating from UNC-Wilmington with a Computer Science degree, and working for his alma mater for two years, he made the move two hours west to Raleigh. There, Alan worked at NC State University in IT administration and management for 30 years, until retiring in Fall 2018 as Director of IT Services.

Starting in 1999, Alan would save up his vacation time from his day job at NC State, and spend 3-4 weeks each fall, trekking through remote regions of the world where he felt there were still undiscovered aroid species to find, document, and get into cultivation. From 1999 to 2018, he managed 21 botanical expeditions around the world, that included the countries/regions of Cambodia, Crete, Hong Kong, Laos, Mallorca, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Alan routinely risked life and limb on his travels, whether it was getting attacked by a pit viper in Thailand, barely missing a land mine in Cambodia, or tumbling down a mountain and almost losing a leg in Laos.

I had the pleasure of botanizing in Crete, Thailand and Vietnam with Alan, which was an amazing experience, although not for the faint of heart. Alan was a tireless force of nature, but was not one to suffer what he viewed as stupidity or laziness. Although he was very respectful of people from all walks of life, he also regularly burned bridges to those whom he found incapable of meeting his meticulously high standards.

Alan was botanically self-taught, but his obsessive compulsion led him to become one of the worlds’ leading experts on tuberous aroids, specializing in the genera Amorphophallus and Typhonium. To date Alan is credited with the discovery of 30 new plant species (see list below). He was working on describing several more plants from his travels at the time of his death.

Not only did Alan’s botanical expeditions result in new species, but also new horticultural cultivars of known species. Two of the most popular of these were Leucocasia (Colocasia) ‘Thailand Giant’ (with Petra Schmidt), and L. ‘Laosy Giant’.

As a scientist, Alan was both meticulous and obsessive. It wasn’t enough for him to observe a new plant in the field, but he felt he could learn far more growing it in cultivation. He would often work through the night in his home research greenhouse studying plants and making crosses, so he could observe seed set and determine other close relatives.

Alan was overly generous with his knowledge, believing that sharing was necessary for the benefit of both current and future generations of plant scientists. Without his expert understanding of crossbreeding tuberous aroids, we would never have been able to have such incredible success in our own aroid breeding program. Seedlings from his crosses were then grown out and observed, often resulting in a number of special clonal selections.

After his tuberous aroids went dormant each year, all tubers were lifted from their containers, inventoried, and carefully cleaned for photography and further study. Visiting his greenhouse during tuber season was quite extraordinary.

In his amazing Raleigh home garden and greenhouse, Alan maintained the world’s largest species collection of Amorphophallus and Typhonium, including 2 plants named in his honor; Amorphophallus gallowayi and Typhonium gallowayi. Alan’s discoveries are now grown in the finest botanical gardens and aroid research collections around the world.

After returning from what proved to be his last expedition in Fall 2018, he suffered from a loss of energy, which he attributed to picking up a parasite on the trip. It took almost eight months for area doctors to finally diagnose his malaise as terminal late stage bone cancer, during which time Alan had already made plans and purchased tickets for his next expedition. I should add that he made his travel plans after being run over by a texting pickup truck driver, and drug under the truck for 100 feet through the parking lot of the nearby Lowes Home Improvement, which ruined his kidney function.

Alan was certain, albeit too late, that his cancer came from a lifetime addiction to cigarettes, which he was never able to overcome. Over the last 18 months, it’s been difficult for those of us who knew Alan to watch him lose the vitality and unparalleled work ethic that had been his trademark. Despite his loss of physical ability, his trademark independent/stubborn nature would still not allow him to even accept help driving himself to chemo infusions and blood transfusions, which he did until he passed away. Alan was also never one to complain or bemoan his circumstances, only continuing to accomplish as much as possible in the time he had remaining.

After the initial shock of his diagnosis, Alan systematically began distributing massive amounts of his ex-situ conservation aroid collection to gardens and gardeners around the world, since he also believed that sharing is the most effective means of plant conservation.

One of his hybrids that Alan had shared and asked us to keep a special eye on was his cross of Amorphophallus kachinensis x konjac. We talked with him last week and shared that the first flower was almost open, and he was so excited to see his baby for the first time, but by the time it opened early this week, it was too late. So, here is the photo of his new cross, seen for the first time that would have made him so proud.

Alan Galloway new plant species discoveries:

Amorphophallus allenii (2019 – Thailand)

Amorphophallus acruspadix (2012 – Laos)

Amorphophallus barbatus (2015 – Laos)

Amorphophallus bolikhamxayensis (2012 – Laos)

Amorphophallus brevipetiolatus (2012 – Laos)

Amorphophallus claudelii (2016 – Laos)

Amorphophallus crinitus (2019 – Vietnam)

Amorphophallus crispifolius (2012 – Laos)

Amorphophallus croatii (2011 – Laos)

Amorphophallus ferruginosus (2012 – Laos)

Amorphophallus gallowayi (2006 – Laos)

Amorphophallus khammouanensis (2015 – Laos)

Amorphophallus malkmus-husseinii (2019 – Laos)

Amorphophallus myosuroides (2007 – Laos)

Amorphophallus ongsakulii (2006 – Laos)

Amorphophallus prolificus (2006 – Thailand)

Amorphophallus reflexus (2006 – Thailand)

Amorphophallus schmidtiae (2006 – Laos)

Amorphophallus serrulatus (2006 – Thailand)

Amorphophallus umbrinus (2019 – Vietnam)

Amorphophallus villosus (2019 – Vietnam)

Typhonium attapeuensis

Typhonium conchiforme (2005 – Thailand)

Typhonium gallowayi (2001 – Thailand)

Typhonium khonkaenensis (2015 – Thailand)

Typhonium rhizomatosum (2012 – Thailand)

Typhonium sinhabaedyai (2005 – Thailand)

Typhonium supraneeae (2012 – Thailand)

Typhonium tubispathum (2005 – Thailand)

Typhonium viridispathum (2012 – Thailand)

Aspidistra gracilis (2012 – Hong Kong)

Not only has Alan been a good friend for over 30 years, but he has been extremely generous in sharing with us at PDN/JLBG. Over 1500 plant specimens in our collection came directly from Alan. It still seems surreal that we have lost such a vibrant soul that has been so important to expanding our body of knowledge about the botanical/horticultural world. Farewell, my friend…you will be sorely missed.

We will be coordinating with his niece April and her husband Mark to plan a celebration of Alan’s life, which will be held here at PDN/JLBG at a future date, which we will announce when it is set.