Chicago Botanic Garden

What's in Bloom

What's in Bloom — Highlight 01.18.13

Subscribe here if you are using the Chrome browser.


Blue Vanda orchid (Vanda caerulea) is at the top of the easternmost orchid tree, near the bananas in the Tropical Greenhouse.

Up to four times a year, the blue Vanda orchid (Vanda caerulea) produces very showy terminal spikes bearing large bluish-purple flowers.  Northern gardeners like this species. It can thrive at much lower temperatures than many other showy orchids typically can, because it is native to the Himalayan foothills, from Assam east to China and Vietnam.

In the wild, this species grows on large, deciduous trees — primarily oak.  It is listed as "vulnerable" on the Convention on the International Trade in Species (CITES) Appendix II, due to loss of habitat. The native oaks upon which it thrives are cut down to produce charcoal. And the orchids are harvested directly from the wild for sale.




Kalanchoe beharensis is known as felt bush because of the heavy covering of indumentum (hairs) on all surfaces of the large, triangular leaves. This species is native to some of the drier parts of the island of Madagascar, where the indumentum helps retain moisture during drying winds while also reflectiing some of the intensive tropical sunlight. The terminal flower clusters are very rarely seen in cultivation. Pale green flowers are marked with maroon nectar guides that direct pollinating insects to the nectaries — and past the pollen that sticks to the insect until it rubs it off on the next plant it visits.

Felt bush (Kalanchoe beharensis) can be found in the Arid Greenhouse.


x Miltassia Charles M. Fitch 'Hilo Triple Lip' is a unique cultivar with two of the upright petals modified to resemble the lower lip. The petals are mottled lavender and purple on an olive green background — an elegant combination. Like other tropical orchids, this plant grows best in warm temperatures, bright light, and high humidity in perfectly drained soils or mounted on a bark slab.

The late George Izumi crossed Brassia verucossa with Miltonia spectabilis to create the hybrid genera known as x Miltoniopsis. These wide crosses between two different genera can result in very different characteristics of each of the surviving seedlings. One cross was particularly beautiful and was given the grex name (referring to all of the seedlings from this one cross) in honor of Charles M. Fitch. One seedling out of the batch exhibited this very unique flower morphology (shape) and was given the cultivar name of 'Hilo Triple Lip'.

x Miltassia Charles M. Fitch 'Hilo Triple Lip' is in the Tropical Greenhouse, on the lower-level orchid tree, next to the Princess of Wales orchids.


Jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) is a rare find in U.S. botanical gardens. Aside from the Chicago Botanic Garden, only the Fairchild Botanical Gardens, south of Miami, Florida, and the Waimea Botanic Gardens in Hawaii have this interesting plant. The unusual color of the jade vine's blooms is the result of pigments in two different color classes being modified by high pH in the sap of the stems.

Native to the Philippines, only old, mature plants produce flowers. Jade vine is a member of the pea family (Fabaceae) and is bat-pollinated in the wild. The brilliantly colored, oddly shaped flowers are adapted for bats to hang upside down and sip the nectar within.

Jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) is at the entrance to the Tropical Greenhouse.

PHOTO: Pink Ball dombeya

Whitfieldia elongata is commonly called White Candles for its never-ending display of 2- to 3-inch pure white flowers surrounded by a petaloid calyx. Glossy leaves with prominent drip tips are all indicative of its origins in tropical rainforests. In cultivation it requires relatively warm temperatures and high humidity, and grows equally well in a large container or planted in the soil of a conservatory. Bright light is preferable.

This genus was named in honor of T. Whitfield, a nineteenth-century collector of African plants. The species was discovered by the intrepid explorer Vogel in a region known as Fernando Po in equatorial Guinea. Its range extends across much of equatorial West Africa.

White candles (Whitfieldia elongata) are in the Semitropical Greenhouse, near the checkerboards.