On 10 January 1863, John Day completed an ink
portrait of the orchid Laelia anceps var. barkeriana.
This was to be the first of nearly 3000 detailed illustrations of
different orchid species, displayed in a total of 53 scrapbooks
over the next 25 years.
John Day was born in the City of London in 1824, the son of a wealthy
wine merchant. Like his father, also a John Day, he became interested
in growing tropical orchids, acquiring specimens recently sent from
plant hunters in the tropics. Many of his drawings and watercolours
show plants that he had brought into flower and are the earliest
known illustrations of those species. He would send the blooms to
botanists for formal identification and naming. His closest collaborator
was the German botanist, Professor H G Reichenbach,
whose published plant descriptions often accompany Day’s own
plant portraits. Reichenbach named several species and varieties
in Day’s honour, in recognition of his enormous contribution
to orchid studies.
Day also painted flowers sent to him by fellow orchid enthusiasts
and at orchid nurseries around London. He frequently visited the
highly respected orchid collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens,
Kew. At times, he travelled in the tropics himself, seeing the orchids
he loved, growing in their natural habitats.
John Day died in 1888, after a period of ill health. His extensive
collection of living orchids, so painstakingly developed, was sold
in 1881 for the then princely sum of £7000.
His scrapbooks were given to Kew by Emma Wolstenholme, his sister,
Conserving orchids >>>