Saturday, 18 May 2013

A cactus called 'Adolf Hitler' - or perhaps not

Epiphyllum 'Reichskanzler Adolph Hitler' or 'Sherman E. Beahm'
My former employer in Holland, the late Kees Sahin, in addition to being an incredibly knowledgeable plantsman, had a fertile and mischievous mind, with a penchant for doing or saying outrageous things that would throw people off balance, usually to his advantage. Another passion was plant names: with a flood of introductions coming from the Sahin stable each year this was something we had to give a lot of thought to and would frequently be the subject of conversation on car journeys up and down The Netherlands. On one such journey he suddenly recalled that there had been an Epiphyllum named after Adolf Hitler, which appealed to his sense of shock value. Once back at home he wrote to his friend Gordon Rowley, the great cactus and succulent expert (and another highly idiosyncratic individual), for information. By return came an envelope containing two shoots with the name 'Adolf Hitler' written on them.

These were promptly rooted and grown on, and as a memory of two great plantsmen and an amusing conservation I kept one of them. It is now in flower on my bedroom windowsill. It has bloomed before, but for some reason I've missed the flowers, so this is the first time I've seen it in full - rather gaudy - glory. Last night it was sweetly scented, but now (mid-morning) there is nothing to detect.

A little research online tells an interesting story. It was raised by Curt Knebel, a great German breeder (information available here), and introduced in 1935 under the name 'Reichskanzler Adolph Hitler'- usually shortened and anglicised as 'Adolf Hitler'. This name having become unacceptable after the Second World War, it was 'officially' changed to 'Sherman E. Beahm', commemorating another Epiphyllum breeder and nurseryman) from Pasadena, California. One does have to wonder how he liked the designation 'Sherman E. Beahm' (syn. 'Adolf Hitler').

It is not an invasive plant.

7 comments:

  1. Quite a awkward Cactus that is... Though I guess one should be glad that it was renamed and thus given a second chance, so to speak, rather than just banished from the trade.

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  2. Writing on the leaves of epiphyllums must be a common practice of cactus growers. I received a complimentary unrooted leaf from a supplier with its name in biro on the leaf!

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  3. I've had an Adolf Hitler epiphyllum in my greenhouse for years. It is a very vigorous plant and flowers unfailingly every year. The flowers themselves are spectacular. They are huge and shade from bright red on the outer petals to pink and white on the inner. They also have a glorious scent which hits you the moment you open the greenhouse door in the morning. I use the original name to shock my guests. It allows me to say "Adolf Hitler is alive and well in my greenhouse", without batting an eyelid!

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  4. I have a copy of Curt knedls book "phylocactus" the book is very interesting and explanes his breading methods and lists a lot of his hibryds includeing six or so renamed plants ie Dr Gobals etc

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  5. Im Anon 7 September Met Gordon once at Ncss convention have just got Rowleys Disophyllum Fanfair from him is there any hope of getting a cutting of Adolf Hitler Sherman E Bheam ive just got Gurtrude Bheahm also one reason for writing on the stems is that telling them apart is dificult Roeropurpupurus and Maidern Eirligh (From GDR)look almost the same when i get my Curt Knebel book back iwil send you aphotocopy or scan of the discription yours sincerly d-macmanus@sky.com

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  6. Curt Kenbel produced at least 150 "phyllocactus "hybrids ,21 "Phyllocereus" hybrids and 31 "Phyllocereus cinnabarinus"F1 F2 hybrids 17 were renamed no217 Dr Joeseph Goebells, no295 Herman Goering, no209Horst Wessel,no92Mussolini were most unlikley to sell well after 1939 but we must remember that it was a difrent time then yours David Mac Manus

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  7. You can get Serman H Beahm from Abbey Brook Cactus Nursery other Curt Keebel hybrids are also in commerce but they take some searching out yours D Mac Manus

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