Escape to a warmer climate and enjoy a mini-vacation from Chicago winters in the Greenhouses at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation, showed us some of the more unusual plants we will find flowering—or fruiting—in the Greenhouses in January.
Discover amazing aloes and euphorbias in the Arid Greenhouse:
- We have 43 different species of aloes, including: dwala aloe (Aloe chabaudii), hidden foot aloe (Aloe cryptopoda), and bitter aloe (Aloe ferox). The long tubular flowers of aloes are adapted for pollination by sunbirds, the African equivalent of our hummingbirds. The sap of aloe vera is used widely in cosmetics and to treat burns.
- Our 35 different species of euphorbias are also spectacular during this time period. Look for geographic forms and cultivars of Euphorbia milii as well as the spectacular Masai spurge (Euphorbia neococcinea). Did you know that poinsettias are also in the genus Euphorbia?
- About to flower for only the second time in 30 years is turquoise puya (Puya alpestris), a bromeliad native to the high, dry deserts of Chile whose turquoise flowers are irresistible to hummingbirds.
The Semitropical Greenhouse is where you will find the following:
- Paper flower—What appears to be the “flowers” of Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’ and ‘Singapore White’ are actually colorful bracts surrounding the small, white flowers.
- Dwarf pomegranate (Punica granatum ‘Nana’)—Pomegranates are native to the Middle East and are part of the Biblical Plants collection in the Semitropical Greenhouse.
- Calamondin orange (× Citrofortunella mitis)—This decorative, small orange is too bitter to be eaten.
- Ponderosa lemon (Citrus × ponderosa)—Ponderosa lemons are the largest in the world.
Don’t miss these highlights in the Tropical Greenhouse:
- “Alice” the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) with her magnificent orange fruiting spike. (The fruiting stage does not produce an odor.) The fruits will mature over the next two months to a deep red. In the wilds of Sumatra, ripe fruits are eaten by the rhinocerous hornbill, which spread the seeds.
- The vining Vanilla planifolia var. variegata is a variegated form of the Central American orchid that produces vanilla beans
- Cacao (Theobroma cacao)—the pods from this plant are used to make chocolate.
- Nodding clerodendrum (Clerodendrum nutans) is among the first of this genus of winter-flowering shrubs and vines to be covered in showy flowers.
- The elegant white Angraecum Memoria Mark Aldridge orchids with their long nectar tubes signal the start of orchid flowering season.
If you miss the blooming of our Angraecum orchid, you’ll find thousands more orchids blooming at the Orchid Show, opening February 13, 2016.
©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
The January issue of National Geographic features articles on two topics dear to me: American’s national parks (I just planned a Grand Canyon/Arches trip for June!), and the power of nature to improve mental health. The latter article cites scientific evidence that nature makes us happier, more productive, nicer to each other, and—critically—more forgiving of ourselves. Additional evidence of this has been published in recent issues of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Nature.
Gardeners recognize this power: We find therapy digging in the earth, getting our hands dirty, and participating intimately in the miracles of life, as well as the floods, freezes, insects, diseases, and other gardening disasters that allow us to witness low-stakes death firsthand.
Gardeners know that even when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate with our harvest, she doesn’t let us down. Nature is generally consistent, and when it isn’t, it is surprisingly consistent in its inconsistency. We can trust in it to adapt and evolve, to persevere endlessly and, when we let it, to heal and support us. We have no choice but to respect and defer to nature’s ways, even when they don’t always act in our favor. I find this incredibly reassuring.
Last winter, I was paying particular attention to my own mental health and finding essential comfort in the Chicago Botanic Garden—its paths and purpose, my colleagues, and my friends.
In early January, I listened closely to a National Public Radio interview with former NHL goalie Clint Malarchuk, who spoke openly and confidently about his own personal mental health challenges. Inspired, I thought that I too could share some of my story, and had the opportunity to do so in the pages of Sibbaldia, the journal of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
The essay can be read here, but I think it is important to share a bit with you:
“It’s a long row to hoe” were the first words that came into my mind one morning. The day before me felt too busy, too much. How was I going to get everything done while being a good mother and daughter, an attentive partner and friend, and an effective leader? How would I balance the pressure of meetings, phone calls, and ever-increasing e-mail traffic while ensuring that dinner was on the table and my sons’ homework was completed on time? Where would I find time to be kind to myself somewhere along the way? I know this challenge is familiar to many women, and it certainly was not the first time I had felt this way. Furthermore, I have wrestled with feelings of anxiety my whole life, and moments like this one have been with me since I was young.
But that morning, when the idiom “It’s a long row to hoe” started repeating in my mind with the persistence of a pop song, I smiled, exhaled, and experienced an epiphany of sorts. My problems suddenly felt reframed. Never before had I really thought about that phrase. I said out loud, “Wow, the noun is ‘row,’ not ‘road’! This phrase is about gardening and farming…Growing things!”
While I may not yet hold the gift of perpetual tranquility, I do know how to garden. Yes, I have learned that hoeing some rows is harder than others, when rocks and weeds or puddles are in the way, but I am always certain I can get the job done. And the labor I expend while gardening even makes me feel rejuvenated—both mentally and physically. At that moment, I wondered if I thought of each day that lay ahead as a metaphorical row to hoe—and plant, water, weed, harvest, and then allow to rest—would life feel easier? And it does. Some seasons give me the most delicious tomatoes and delphiniums that stand up straight, even in Chicago. Other days I wake to a late freeze or spend hours picking off slugs. Knowing that I can handle the ups and downs of gardening, I felt better prepared to face my more typical day with renewed mental strength, tranquility, and courage.
I know I am not alone in believing that people live better, healthier lives when they create, care for, and enjoy gardens. Millions of people tend backyard or container gardens, or keep plants in their home or office window to enrich their life. Even in winter, there are many ways to enjoy gardens and nature. One thing I do is put on my boots and take a nature walk, simply enjoying the experience of being outside. Browse seed catalogues or gardening books, and plan your summer garden. If you take a vacation, visit the local botanic garden. Dream of the tropics at the Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Take nature photos. You can even view lovely garden scenes or videos while you work out. Gardening, visiting gardens, and taking advantage of the science, education, and therapy programs offered by more than 1,000 botanic gardens, arboreta, and conservatories around the world are helping many individuals and communities to cope, mourn, and rejoice.
Gardens give us a bounty of gifts: beautiful flowers to share and enjoy, fresh vegetables for our tables. Their greatest gift of all may be intangible, but we are so grateful for their unique power to help us lead happier, healthier lives.
©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
Alice the Amorphophallus, our titan arum (or corpse flower) is fruiting! Alice is on display at a new location in the Tropical Greenhouse here at the Chicago Botanic Garden so that all of our visitors may come see the beautiful, dark orange fruit that is developing.
As many of you know, we manually pollinated Alice’s flowers on the morning of September 29, 2015, after the plant began blooming late the previous evening. We used the pollen we had collected from Alice’s “brother” Spike a month earlier, plus pollen from the Denver Botanic Gardens’ bloom, Stinky (in the same bloom cycle as Spike). About half of the developing fruits are from Spike’s pollen and the other half are from Stinky’s pollen.
It can take five to six months for the fruit to ripen, and the fruiting process is quite beautiful to observe, as the fruits change from a gold color to orange, and finally to a dark red color once ripened. After the 400+ fruits are ripe, we will harvest the fruits, and extract the two seeds that are produced by each fruit. We hope to germinate a few of these seeds in order to grow more titan arums to add to our collection—and increase the age diversity of the collection as well. (As many of our current plants have the same seed or corm source, they are all roughly the same age.) Some of the seeds will be shared and distributed to other botanical gardens, universities, and educational institutions as requested. The rest of the seeds harvested will be stored in our seed bank freezer in the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center. This will help with increasing the genetic diversity of the species and continue to aid with plant conservation efforts.
I realize there are many questions that you may have regarding Alice’s fruit, many of which were asked during the time that Alice (and Spike) were on display last year.
The titan arum is the largest non-branched inflorescence in the world, and it is found in the dense jungles of Sumatra. An inflorescence is a cluster of flowers—like a bouquet. The inflorescence of the titan arum is composed of two parts: The outer, purple, vase-like sheath (a single leaf) is called the spathe. It protects the inner tube-like spike called the spadix, which attracts pollinators. The flowers are small and are located on the base of the spadix. There are hundreds of them.
What does it mean that Alice is producing fruit?
The fruiting process of a titan arum is just like that of other flowering plants. After a flower is pollinated, the fleshy fruit develops (think of a cherry or apricot). The fruits of the titan arum grow from a yellow-gold to a more orange-red tone. When the fruit is fully ripened, about six months after pollination, it will have a soft outer flesh that is dark red in color. After fruiting, the plant will return to dormancy, and send up a leaf in its next growth cycle.
Does Alice still smell?
No. Alice is not producing any odor and it is not blooming. Odor is only produced within the first 24–48 hours during the initial bloom. After flowering, Alice’s spathe shriveled and dried out, and was removed one week after the initial bloom. The spadix began to collapse five days after pollination; it was removed two months later after it was completely dried up.
Will Alice bloom again?
Yes, but not in the near future. After the fruits mature, the plant will go dormant for a period of time, then produce a new leaf every year for a number of years. Once the corm’s energy has been replenished, Alice will bloom again. However, we now have 13 titan arums in the Garden’s collection, and we expect that another will bloom within the next year or two. We do not know when, as it is hard to predict—even in nature. The plant needs to recover and build up energy before it can flower again.
What did you do with pollen from Alice?
Garden conservation scientists collected pollen from Alice during her bloom. Several small holes were cut in the spathe for manual pollination to take place. The same access holes were used to collect pollen later in the day. The pollen is now in cold storage to use in pollinating the next titan arum bloom at the Garden. We also share pollen with other botanic gardens, universities, and educational institutions.
Today, the Garden has 13 titan arums in its collection. But the increase in number is not the result of pollination. Just like many of our spring bulbs (such as narcissus, canna, and dahlias), the tuber, or bulb, that produces the flower for the titan arum grew additional bulbs that we hope will produce fully-grown plants.
Is the fruit edible?
In nature, the fruit is eaten by the rhinoceros hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros). Attracted by the brightly colored covering, the birds eat the fleshy fruits and excrete the hard, resistant inner seeds. The fruit is not suitable for human consumption.
This plant produces one leaf at a time for several years. The leaves start out small and get progressively larger each year. We have several in our production area now. The leaves photosynthesize and allow the plant to store energy in a large (sometimes weighing up to 40 pounds) underground tuber called a corm. Each leaf lasts about a year before it dyes back and goes dormant. Because flowering takes so much energy, it takes several years before the plant has enough energy stored to produce a flower. Alice took 12 years to come to flower!
Come out and see Alice and her fruit now through April 8, 2016. To learn more about Alice and Spike, the Chicago Botanic is offering a free lecture and Q&A about these two plant stars on Sunday, January 17, from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.
©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
For many years, the Chicago Botanic Garden has made a concerted effort to use new and interesting plants to create innovative “wow” displays. Since coming to the Garden seven months ago, I have been continually impressed with this program and the institutional drive to make plants the priority to draw visitors to the Garden.
The basic idea behind the “wow” program is to excite our visitors with provocative plantings (or a single fantastic plant). No plant or plants better exemplifies this program than our titan arums Spike and Alice, which created unprecedented “plantmania” at the Garden. Kris Jarantoski, executive vice president and director of the Garden, had speculated that someday the tiny bulbs we received 12 years ago might create a botanical spectacle unequaled in the greater Chicago area, and, well, he was right!
In the summer of 1984, I interned at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida (one year later I would intern at the Chicago Botanic Garden!). It was my first exposure to the incredible ornamental breadth offered by tropical plants. Since that summer, I have been back many, many times to explore the botanical gardens of South Florida, and on occasion, visit the wealth of wholesale nurseries. Thinking that this palette of plants could make for some provocative displays in selected gardens here, I proposed to Kris Jarantoski that our outdoor floriculturist Tim Pollak (better known to our readership as Titan Tim) and I take a five-day trip to Florida to explore the botanical riches of this area with the goal of finding future “wows.”
With the help of Ian Simpkins, director of horticulture at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, we put together an ambitious itinerary to explore many of the specialty wholesale nurseries in the Homestead, Florida, area (this area is reported to have more than 2,000 nurseries), but also to see plants displayed in botanical gardens. We started our work on the last day of November. Thanks to Ian, we had a well-vetted list and were able to hit the ground running. During these (mostly) rain-free days, we visited 16 nurseries, and also spent quality time at the Montgomery Botanical Center, Fruit and Spice Park, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.
Botanics Wholesale was our first nursery tour stop. Here we saw incredible specimens of palms and cycads including the shaggy-stemmed old man palm, Coccothrinax crinita.
Nearby at Redland Nursery, we received a tour and saw an array of very unusual palms such as the bottle palm, Hyophorbe lagenicaulis, and Hyophorbe verschaffeltii, spindle palm.
We continued our tour of nurseries in the Homestead area with a visit to Bullis Bromeliads. This nursery only features epiphytic plants—specifically bromeliads. (While they are epiphytes in their native habitats, they make an excellent container plant in the summer landscape.)
Bullis offers a broad selection of cultivars of many genera including Aechmea, Androlepis, Billbergia, Guzmania, Neoregelia, Orthophytum, Portea, Puya, and Tillandsia. I love the bold, statuesque aechmeas, with their orange-yellow, strap-like foliage.
Our next stop was Signature Trees and Palms, and their fantastic collection of extraordinary tropical trees and very large stature palms. This is the nursery to go to if you need a 50-foot-tall specimen palm for your property! We found their beautiful red-leaf introduction of Heliconia spectabilis a possibility for our list.
The following day we focused on visiting the botanical gardens in the Miami area. In the morning we were met by Patrick Griffith, director of the Montgomery Botanical Center, which focuses on the conservation of threatened species of palms and cycads from around the world.
Adjacent to Montgomery is the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Founded in 1938, its mission is to conserve the world’s diversity of tropical plants. Today, the mature plantings are diverse and are beautifully displayed around a series of lakes.
In the afternoon, we met Ian Simpkins—who had helped us organize our tour—at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. This was the winter estate of James Deering, whose family founded Deering Harvester Company (which later became International Harvester Company). The house was built between 1914 and 1922, and is surrounded by elaborate subtropical gardens filled with amazing plantings of cacti, palms, and grasses.
Our research expedition finished with a few more exploratory visits to nurseries, including a trip highlight to the diverse and interesting Boynton Botanicals in Boynton Beach, Florida, and its extensive wholesale nursery of palms, elephant ears, begonias, succulents, and other tropical plants.
On the last day we traveled to Loxahatchee to visit Excelsa Gardens nursery, and while it was not planned, we literally “saved the best for last.” In addition to having an incredible variety of plants, the nursery offers many fantastic sizes of wonderful specimen-sized plants. In fact, we will reveal that we purchased two specimens of the white elephant palm, Kerriodoxa elegans—noted for its large, fan-shaped leaves with white undersides and black petioles—to display in the Heritage Garden in 2016.
We returned to Chicago with lists of hundreds of future plant prospects, as well as a multitude of design ideas that could be future “wows” for years to come!
©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org
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Propagating Eden : uses and techniques of nature printing in botany and art : April 3 - July 25, 2010, Wave Hill Glyndor Gallery / organized by International Print Center New York ; curated by Pari Stave & Matthew Zucker.
Call Number: NE1338.P76 2010
Call Number: QH106.2.O6N38 2011
Author: Simpson, Ann Cary.
Call Number: QK191.S56 2011
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Call Number: QK86.U6F528 2011
Call Number: TR662.I58 2010
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Call Number: QK46.H35 2011
The book of fungi : a life-size guide to six hundred species from around the world / Peter Roberts and Shelley Evans.
Author: Roberts, Peter, 1950 Mar. 27-
Call Number: QK603.R63 2011
The complete guide to saving seeds : 322 vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruits, trees, and shrubs / Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough.
Author: Gough, Robert E. (Robert Edward)
Call Number: SB118.3.G68 2011
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Call Number: SB473.D373 2007
Author: Geiger, Barbara.
Call Number: SB470.S56G45 2011
Lithops : Lithops werneri, Lithops fulviceps, Lithops vallis-mariae, Lithops optica, Lithops ruschiorum, Lithops hermetica, Lithops bromfieldii.
Call Number: QK495.A32L58 2010
Author: Garden Club of America.
 vleesetende planten uit de Hortus botanicus Leiden / André Schuiteman ; foto's door Jan Meijvogel, André Schuiteman, Art Vogel ; tekening, Shirley Duivenvoorde.
Author: Schuiteman, André.
Call Number: QK917.S59 2010
Monographic plant systematics : fundamental assessment of plant biodiversity / edited by Tod F. Stuessy and H. Walter Lack.
Call Number: QK14.5.M66 2011
Author: Messervy, Julie Moir.
Call Number: SB473.M48 2009