Chicago Botanic Garden

What's in Bloom

What's in Bloom — Highlight 01.11.13

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Salm Dyck aloe (Aloe salm-dyckiana) is in the Arid Greenhouse.

Salm Dyck aloe (Aloe salm-dyckiana) was given a species name early in the eighteenth century, before it was recognized — thanks to DNA analysis — as representing a hybrid swarm* between Aloe ferox and Aloe arborescens. Individual plants can have flowers of deep scarlet, tangerine, orange, or a combination of orange and yellow, depending on what part of the hybrid swarm they descend from.

Aloes require low humidity and deep, well-drained soils.  Some of the smaller-maturing species make exceptional container plants, but this species matures at 8 to 10 feet in height and produces enormous, branched, candelabralike inflorescences. Unfortunately, this plant requires a container too large and heavy for most Chicago-area gardeners to move indoors in the fall to escape winter's freezing temperatures.

*A hybrid swarm is a variable local population at the junction of the range of two interfertile species or subspecies resulting from extensive interbreeding and hybridization.

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Juanulloa aurantica, frequently sold as the gold finger plant, continuously produces long, orange bracts enclosing a salmon-colored flower at the tips of each branch. A semi-epiphyte, aerial roots originating from the stems help this plant cling to the trunks of trees from Mexico south to Chile.

Maturing at 4 feet by 4 feet in size, this plant is easily adapted to container culture. Grow outdoors during the frost-free season in full sun with a little afternoon shade. Once temperatures start to cool, bring it indoors into a brightly lit room. If the light levels are too low, the plant may enter dormancy and drop leaves. As new growth appears towards the end of winter, place the plant in the brightest light available until the danger of frost has past.

Gold finger plant (Juanulloa aurantica) is in the Tropical Greenhouse.

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African glory bower (Clerodendrum splendens) climbs up to 10 feet in height by twining around a support. The tips of the branches are graced with a large number of scarlet red flowers, forming a spectacular sight. This native of tropical West Africa begins to flower as soon as the days start to lengthen in late December, and continues until sometime in May.

This plant adapts well to the home environment, requiring only a brightly lit exposure and temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. After flowering, reduce the length of the stems to keep the plant within a manageable size.

African glory bower (Clerodendrum splendens) is in the Temperate Greenhouse.

PHOTO: Aloe ferox

Aloe ferox is called bitter aloe in its native South Africa. A large plant with broad, bold foliage, the candelabralike spikes feature flowers that are tightly held against the flowering stem, unlike many of its cousins. The plant's sap is used internally as a laxative and externally as a treatment for skin ailments, similar to Aloe vera.

All members of this genus are protected by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This international agreement regulates the international trade in plants and plant products to ensure that harvest activities do not drive the species to extinction.

Bitter aloe (Aloe ferox) is on the south side of the Arid Greenhouse near the entrance.

PHOTO: Pink Ball dombeya

A large shrub or small tree, pinkball dombeya (Dombeya wallichii) features rounded, hanging clusters of flowers 4 to 6 inches across. Native to East Africa and Madagascar, the genus is a highly sought-after ornamental in USDA Zones 9 and warmer.

The genus name celebrates the French physician, botanist, and explorer Joseph Dombey. Under the auspices of the French crown, he undertook plant explorations in South America in the eighteenth century. The British seized Dombey's first shipment of specimens, including valuable notes on Cinchona, the source of quinine. The Peruvian government admired the color prints he commissioned, seized them, and turned them over to two Spanish botanists who were working on the flora of Panama. On Dombey's return trip to France, his ship was diverted to Spain, where remaining specimens were seized and he was thrown into jail until he agreed not to publish his notes until after the Spanish botanists published their Panamanian flora. Dombey's acquiescence to the Spanish demands led him back to France, where he was commissioned to collect plants in the United States. Enroute, his ship was captured by privateers, and the intrepid Dombey died in captivity in Monserrat. Dombey's collections are highly valued parts of British, Spanish, and French herbaria; his name has been used by his fellow botanists to commemorate this beautiful genus of flowering shrubs and several species of South American trees and perennials.

The species name celebrates Danish physician and botanist Nathaniel Wallich. Dr. Wallich was in the Danish colony at Serampore in India when it was taken over by the British as a result of Denmark's support for France during the Napoleonic Wars. Due to his education, Dr. Wallich was released from prison and continued to work in India under the auspices of the East India Company. He helped establish Assam as a primary tea-growing area, created the first European Museum of Indian art, and helped found the Calcutta Botanical Garden.

Pinkball dombeya (Dombeya wallichii) is growing in the Temperate Greenhouse against the north wall.