Chicago Botanic Garden

What's in Bloom

What's in Bloom — Highlight 12.14.12

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Red Lion amaryllis (Hippeastrum 'Red Lion') is in the Tropical Greenhouse palm allée.

Red Lion amaryllis (Hippeastrum 'Red Lion') produces up to three flower spikes in succession from each large bulb. Each of the flower spikes carries between four and five flowers, and each of the scarlet-red flowers measures over 8 inches in diameter. Amaryllis are a distinctive choice of traditional holiday flower, and provide an extended bloom period.

Amaryllis (the old genera name that is now used as the common name for this group of plants) are native to frost-free regions of South America, and they make wonderful container plants for Chicago-area gardeners. Once the last of the blooms has faded, continue to water and fertilize the bulb (with diluted levels once a week) until it is safe to plant tomatoes outdoors. Move the container outside in bright light and let it continue to grow throughout the summer. Once fall approaches, reduce water to encourage the plant to go dormant (the leaves will droop and turn yellow), and store in a frost free, dry location. Six weeks after entering dormancy, the plant can be brought back into a sunny location and watered. Once the bloom spikes start to emerge, gradually increase watering. Flowering typically begins about six weeks after it has been watered.

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Aeschynanthus radicans is also known as the lipstick plant. This relative of African violets makes a beautiful hanging basket around the holiday season with its dark green foliage and long, bright-red, tubular flowers. Grow indoors under bright light in African violet potting soil. Siting this plant in a hanging basket or tall container will accentuate the long, pendulous stems on which the flowers are borne. 

This species grows as an epiphyte near the top of old-growth tropical trees in Malaysia and Java. A waxy cuticle on the leaves prevents dessication during the dry season — it also helps the plant survive the relatively low humidity levels in Chicago-area homes during the winter months.

Lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus radicans) can be found in the hanging baskets in the Temperate Greenhouse.

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The Madagascar native crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii var. sonorae) blooms in masses of bright pink flowers throughout the winter. Its succulent stems are armed with thorns and its sap with distasteful chemicals, both of which discourage herbivores from feeding on the tissues. Grown indoors on bright windowsills with almost no water during the summer, this long-lived plant continues to reward such inattention with masses of blooms.

Crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii var. sonorae) can be found near the saguaro cactus in the Arid Greenhouse.

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Jack Frost® calla lily (Zantedeschia 'NZPV2894') produces chalices of pure white flowers with a light citrus scent during the winter months. Often used as a cut flower, this freeze-sensitive, long-lived bulb can also be grown in containers to provide color during the holiday season. Bright light in the winter is key to keeping this plant alive for years. In summer, place the container in a lightly shaded environment to avoid leaf scorch.

Jack Frost® calla lily (Zantedeschia 'NZPV2894') is in the Greenhouse Gallery.

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Gold Coast® English holly (Ilex aquifolium 'Monvila') provides the quintessential holly for a holiday-season arrangment. This cultivar features the typical scalloped dark green leaves, but bordered in gold. The male cultivar doesn't produce fruit, but is a great pollinator for any female holly plants that might be around. Unfortunately, English hollies are not reliably hardy in the Chicago area. For gardeners who love a challenge, the locations most amenable to growing this plant outdoors are sandy ridges protected by a wind brake of mature trees on a slope (for good air movement).

Gold Coast® English holly (Ilex aquifolium 'Monvila') is in the main Wonderland Express exhibition hall.