Chicago Botanic Garden

What's in Bloom

What's in Bloom — Highlight 02.08.13


Bat plant (Tacca chantrieri) is blooming in the lower level of the Tropical Greenhouse.

Bat plant (Tacca chantrieri) has deep purple, almost black bracts on tall, 20-inch flowering stems. The flowers, which can grow up to 10 inches long, superficially resemble a bat in flight with long whiskers. The foliage of this unusual-looking shade-loving plant resembles Spathiphyllum, and its color and odor attract bats and flies to achieve cross-pollination.

Tacca is a monotypic genus in the Taccadeae family, with a natural population range limited to Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. In some species, the flowers act as traps to ensure that flies crawl around the flowers enough to guarantee the transfer of pollen. Tubers from one species in this genus are used as a source of starch (Tahiti arrowroot), while the leaves of a second are used to make hats; a third has medicinal properties.




Aloe burgerfortensis is one of more than 200 species of aloe native to southern Africa, the island of Madagascar, and the Arabian peninsula. Given their genus name by Linnaeus in 1753, aloes have been known for thousands of years. Their images appear in bushman rock art, and the genus name derives from the Greek alsos, referring to the leaves' bitter sap. This succulent's unusual, brightly colored, downward-angled orange flowers, and attractive variegated foliage make it a stand-out. The waxy leaves have sunken pores that prevent water loss.

Many aloes are used as ornamentals, while the juice of others is utilized in purgatives, for the treatment of boils, in shampoo and cosmetics, and for tanning leather.

Aloe burgerfortensis is in the Arid Greenhouse, near the base of the ponytail palms.


Flowering bush coleus (Plectranthus thyrsoideus) is a 35-inch shrubby perennial herb with fragrant foliage and tall spikes of blue flowers that are valued for being one of the rare "true blue" flowers. Its leaves are bright green on top and paler beneath, with coarsely toothed margins, and grow smaller toward the tops of the branches. A member of the Labiatae (mint) family, this genus contains 300 species found in the Old World and tropical regions. Other species are used in shampoo, medicine, and flavorings, as well as edible tubers and ornamentals.

Classified earlier under the genus name Coleus (which is still in its common name), this genus was eventually split into two — Plectranthus and Solenostemon, the latter of which is the genus commonly found in our summer perennial gardens.

Flowering bush coleus (Plectranthus thyrsoideus) blooms throughout the winter season in the Semitropical Greenhouse.


Chirita (Chirita 'Aiko') is an interesting member of the African violet (Gesneriaceae) family, an excellent choice for the windowsill or light garden. A hybrid of C. eburnea and C. subrhomboidea, it reaches a compact height of 6 to 12 inches with yellow flower sprays clustered on the ends of the outreaching stems. The abundant, bright yellow flowers open one at a time from buds at the end of the flowering stalks, above medium green, quilted foliage. Grown in moist soil, it's a strong and vigorous plant appreciated both for blooming during the cooler months of the year and for remaining contained. The plant does not set seed and is propagated by leaf cuttings. Genus Chirita contains 77 species, all of which are native to the Indo-Malaysian region.

Chirita 'Aiko' can be found growing in the Semitropical Greenhouse, tucked between the gardenia and walking iris.


Blue Springs penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus var. purdyi 'Blue Springs') is a short-statured seasonal plant with almost luminous, intense blue-purple, bell-shaped flowers on short, 6- to 12-inch spikes with blue-green foliage. Much loved by hummingbirds and butterflies, its dense and compact growth habit reaches a maximum size of 14 inches in height and spread. Once established in full sun, it will live long and prosper in low fertility soil with little summer water. A superb choice for dry gardens and containers, this penstemon is deer-resistant and drought-tolerant. This genus contains 250 species, all native to the American west. Many of these herbaceous perennials and small woody shrubs are used as ornamentals.

Blue Springs penstemon (Penstemon heterophyllus var. purdyi 'Blue Springs') is at the far west end of the Arid Greenhouse.