What's in Bloom

Bloom Highlights

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Sources for "What's in Bloom: Bloom Highlights" listings include the Chicago Botanic Garden's staff and database, as well as the publications and records of other botanic gardens, institutions, and the scientific community.

Musa x paradisiaca


The dramatic banana plant (Musa x paradisiaca), a hybrid of Musa acuminata x Musa balbisiana, is a member of the Musaceae family often incorrectly referred to as a tree. It is actually a large perennial herb, with succulent, very juicy stems that arise from a fleshy rhizome or corm and reaches a height of 20 to 25 feet. The huge, smooth, paddle-shaped leaves can grow as large as 8 feet. They number from 4 to 15 and are arranged spirally around the stems. They unfurl upward and outward at the rate of one per week in warm conditions. The flowers first appear as large, long, oval, tapering, purple-clad buds, which are actually waxy, hood-like bracts that cover the flowers inside. As they open, slim, nectar-rich, tubular, toothed white flowers are clustered in whorled double rows along the floral stalk. Hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 11, the banana plant is an ornamental, tropical-looking houseplant that in the Chicago area should be grown indoors in organically rich, moist, well-drained soil in full sun.

Edible bananas originated in the Indo-Malaysian region, reaching to northern Australia. They were known as early as the third century B.C.E. Commonly called edible banana or French plantain, the genus is named for Antonia Musa, a first-century B.C.E. Roman physician.

Acalypha hispida

Chenille Plant

Chenille plant, also known as "red hot cat's tail," is a large shrub in the euphorbia family native to New Guinea and Malaysia; it is widely cultivated in tropical areas. It is known for the long, fuzzy red catkin flowers that can reach up to 18 inches long. The leaves are broadly ovate and bristly, with fine teeth. In more northerly climates it can be grown indoors with bright light, or as a potted plant outdoors in partly shaded conditions. On smaller plants the catkins may be closer to 6 to 8 inches, starting to droop as they get longer. It requires even moisture and weekly fertilizing if kept in a pot, and must be brought indoors before frost.

Heliconia stricta 'Gustavos Yellow'

Gustavos Yellow Heliconia

Tall banana like leaves surround the large upright pure yellow heliconia bracts during Chicago's winter in protected greenhouses and conservatories. From each water storing bract, small pale colored true flowers appear in succession attracting pollinating insects but particularly hummingbirds looking for nectar. This is a plant native to warm humid tropical climates and requires full sun, consistently moist soils and high humidity. Challenging but not impossible in a very large container.

Calliandra haematocephala

Red Powderpuff

Native to Bolivia, red powderpuff (Calliandra haematocephala) is an evergreen shrub or small tree included in the legume or pea family, Fabaceae, and the mimosa subfamily (Mimosoideae). It typically grows 10 to 15 feet tall in its native habitat and is a very popular flowering shrub in central and southern Florida, where it will survive year around in the ground. Bipinnately compound leaves (5 to 10 pairs of leaflets per pinna) open copper-pink but mature to dark green. Raspberry-like flower buds open to hemispherical red powderpuff flower heads to 3 inches across, consisting of masses of scarlet stamens. Red powderpuff blooms primarily in fall and winter, but sporadic additional blooms may occur throughout the rest of the year. Variations in flower color exist, with some pink and white forms available. The genus name,Calliandra, comes from the Greek words kallos (beauty) andros (stamen).

Costus barbatus 'Red Velvet'

Spiral Ginger

Red tower or spiral ginger is a large member of the Costus genus (Costaceae) that grows in a spiral habit to a height of 4 to 8 feet. Beginning in early April and lasting through autumn, Costus barbatus 'Red Velvet' sends forth blooms in long inflorescences ending in bright red, waxy bracts. Lemon-yellow (and edible) tubular flowers emerge one at a time from between the bracts. Each flower lasts only a day, but the bracts continue to grow throughout the season, reaching a length of 6 to 10 inches. Old bracts die off quickly and new ones replace them throughout the bloom season, giving this plant the illusion of being perpetually in bloom.

When not in bloom, this Costa Rican native is still a very attractive ginger, bearing dark green, shiny leaves with a soft, downy, sage-green underside, making it a staple attraction in any tropical environment.