This orchid prefers the sort of temperate forests that once abundantly graced Guatemala and Mexico. It is the national flower of Guatemala. Though the first known European to discover it was Jean Linden in 1840, it was later described by Bateman in 1842 who classified it as a Maxillaria. A few years later, it was re-classified as a Lycaste but whatever further taxonomic adventures may await this lovely plant, with its breathless, innocent air, nothing short of complete extinction could destroy its obvious aesthetic appeal. I painted this portrait from a specimen growing in the Serres du Senat, Luxembourg, Paris. I painted quite a few plants from the beautifully tended collections there, but was thrilled to be commissioned by their then curator, Pierre Bertaux, to make this painting for his forthcoming monograph, “Lycastes et Anguloas, des orchidées hors du commun.” .Like its author, it is a book of immense charm and specialist knowledge & can be found in the Senat bookshop, Paris, published by Belin. I hope that this composition reflects how elegantly this epiphytic orchid may appear, launching its beauty off an accommodating tree branch and out into the world………..
The etymology of the name Lycaste skinneri is fascinating. The Scotsman George Ure Skinner was born in 1804. He began adult life conventionally enough under familial pressure to become a banker but soon broke free to follow his botanical passions and travel extensively in central America, especially Guatemala. He was such an obsessive collector that no matter how many difficulties befell him, from shipwreck to fire, he amassed and dispatched more orchids than any other collector of his era. Lindley named the species and, as he was a classics scholar, it seems likely that he knew of a poem written around 500 C.E by the poet Nonnus. In it, the life of the wine-loving god Dionysius was described in a hexameter poem during a journey to India which included mention of his wet nurse, Lycaste. She was so loyal to Dionysius that she became a warrior who risked her life to accompany him even into battle.
Lycaste are endemic to Central America, gracing Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala with their exceptional beauty. Some of the thirty six species are very fragrant, including the highly variable L. skinneri. Unlike the proliferation of hybridised, man-made cultivars, L. skinneri var. rosea is a naturally occurring variant. The last known wild survivors were found in Mexican mountain rain forest on the Jitotol Ridge. © Frances Livingstone 2018