May. 1st, 2016

lblanchard: (swannfountain)
[This is an occasional series of postings inspired by Abigail Rorer, Mimpish Squinnies: Reginald Farrer's Short Guide to Worthless Plants. Rorer's book includes prints of fourteen plants Farrer considered worthless-- an interesting hybrid of botanically accurate and...different.]

I’ve just finished Volume 1 of On the Eaves of the World, Reginald Farrer’s delicious account of his 1914 collecting trip to China and Tibet. It’s one part travelogue; one part Gilbert & Sullivanesque description of Chinese and Tibetan officialdom in a time that China’s power was waning and brigands were roaming the same areas where Farrer and his assistant, William Purdom, were collecting; and one part over-the-top rhapsodizing about the beauties of the plants and the terrain. I found one of my first mimpish squinnies in this excerpt in which Farrer talks about four orchids from the genus Cypripedium – Cypripedium tibeticum. Farrer is surprised to find a stand of the plant that is decidedly not mimpish.

On the Eaves of the World, Vol. 1, pp. 302-305.

Suddenly the gorge ceases, brought up abruptly against a huge steep breast of bamboo scrub, ascending to plumy precipices and pinnacles far overhead. Here a lateral glen curls to the right, and serpentines arduously upward through ever-narrowing ravines, where lilacs tower in faint clouds of blossom, and the crimson Cypripedium lurks. But this track has no long course, and soon enters its final gorge, deep in the heart of the precipice, with the Grand-Violet flopping from the walls. Here it was, on the cooler, shadier aspects of the immortally cool and shady gully, as I scrambled along the banks and ledges of the cliffs, amid tussocks of scant grass and small Rhododendrons occupying the moist banks of humus, that I grew aware of a new Cypripedium [Cypripedium farreri]. Here and there she arose amid the herbage, a small delicate person, recalling the Lady's slipper of the alps, but far more graceful and slight in habit, with elvish pointed segments, quaintly twisted, of greenery-yallery tone, striped with solid lines of maroon. Her lip, however, was her outstanding beauty, being of a pale and waxy cream-yellow outside, and striped internally with maroon that faintly transpired. It was of the strangest bottle shape, too, constricted below the mouth, which expanded again in a row of regular Vandykes so hard and glossy as to glitter to the light.

Cypripedium farreri, watercolor by Reginald Farrer (China, 1914)
Royal Horticultural Society, Lindley Library

But wait, there is more -- much, much more )

This would have been a lot of keyboarding. Happily, I have the books as Acrobat files, and the pages were OCRd after scanning, so I’m able to cut and paste the text with only a little reformatting needed. Check out the links to the web pages of the enthusiast who calls himself Botany Boy. Many of them include videos.

About Mimpish Squinnies: If you're local, you can view some of Abigail Rorer's work in the Goldstein Family Gallery, Kislak Center for Special Collections, University of Pennsylvania Libraries, now through May 15 but be aware that the Library has restricted access through May 10 for reading days. You can also see her work at her website:


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