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.

Candelabra Aloe

Candelabra aloe (Aloe arborescens) is native to South Africa's Cape Province, north to Zimbabwe and Malawi, where it flourishes on rocky outcrops and stony ridges. It was originally planted there as security fencing around kraals, or livestock enclosures. Its unique silhouette—brilliant, tall, orange-red racemes of flower—and habit of blooming in winter, when there is often little color, are most likely the reasons that it's the most planted aloe in the world. Arborescens means tree-like; this species of aloe reaches 10 feet in height. Its multiple stems support large numbers of blue-green, fleshy rosettes with leaves that have soft teeth along the edges. The succulent leaves contain a pulp that is as effective medicinally as the pulp in the other more well-known species, Aloe vera. The pulp is known to soothe the skin, especially from burning and redness, and has many other therapeutic uses. The nectar-filled flowers rise from the rosettes, attracting bees, birds, and butterflies.

Hidden Foot Aloe

Aloe cryptopoda produces brilliant red and yellow flower buds that open to reveal yellow flowers from short-stemmed plants with narrow succulent leaves. The species is widespread across much of southern Africa, but this particular color form is sometimes named Aloe wickensii, after the South African farmer who discovered it in 1914. Tough and durable, this plant requires full sun and arid conditions to produce the best flowering displays.

The species name cryptopoda means "hidden foot," referring to the flower stalks, which are hidden by the leafy bracts. Like many other aloes, this species is pollinated by sunbirds. In Africa, sunbirds fill an ecological niche equivalent to that filled by the hummingbirds in North and South America. This plant was discovered on the banks of the Zambezi River in Mozambique.

Lady Doorly's Morning Glory

Bright crimson flowers cover Lady Doorly's morning glory (Ipomoea horsfalliae) throughout the Chicago winters when grown in a conservatory. This nonhardy perennial morning glory from the West Indies can get really large, making container culture problematic. The glossy leaves are palmate, with the central leaflet much larger than the others. It's hardy from USDA Zones 9 to 13; plant this morning glory in moderately fertile, well-drained soil, and provide a support for the stems to twine around.

Panama Rose

Though its common name is Panama rose (Rondeletia leucophylla), this plant is actually a native of Chiapas, Mexico. This large, bushy, 5-foot-tall shrub produces massed clusters of bright pink, star-shaped, tightly packed, tubular blooms virtually all year when grown as a container plant or in the ground in a frost-free conservatory. Cultivated in the southern United States, the flowers' nectar attracts both hummingbirds and butterflies, but interestingly, the flowers don't become fragrant until after the sun goes down, suggesting that it also may be pollinated by moths. This feature is an added bonus for those who sit in the garden in the evening, where they can enjoy the Panama rose's sweet fragrance. Grow this plant in full sun with moderate moisture.

Velvet Groundsel

Roldana oaxacana produces masses of golden yellow, aster-like flowers from January through March. This large perennial (8 to 10 feet) has leaves to 8 inches across that are coarsely lobed and furry. The golden pollen literally covers the leaves. This plant should grow in full sun with temperatures that reliably remain above the mid-20 degree Fahrenheit range and be protected from strong winds. It's not fussy about soil, but the large leaves will wilt during periods of drought. Native to the cloud forests of Oaxaca, this plant made its way from Mexico to the San Francisco Botanic Garden. Through a seed exchange, Longwood Garden discovered this plant made an outstanding display plant during the winter doldrums. From there, commercial nurserymen began to offer it for sale. The plant was named by a Mexican priest/naturalist, Dr. Pablo de La Llave, in honor of Eugenio Mantana y Roldan Otumbensi who fought bravely in a battle on the plains of Apam near Mexico City. Like other members of the aster family, the advent of DNA analysis has led to numerous name changes. At one time or another, this plant has been in three different genera as well as two species. The most current name for this plant is Roldana oaxacana.