Category Archives: Tropical Plants

Flowers for the 4th

The garden is starting to really bloom and here are some of my favorites.

zin

Magellan Zinnia

Cheyanne Sunset Echinacea

Cheyanne Sunset Echinacea

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Mandeville

Mandeville

Cleome

Cleome

Flowering Thyme

Flowering Thyme

Trumpet Lily

Trumpet Lily

Trumpet Lily

Trumpet Lily

Passion Flower

Passion Flower

Heliotrope

Heliotrope

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Help! What Are These Flowers???

In the last post I showed some of the tropical flowers that I photographed and was able to ID with a little bit of searching on the internet. However, there were a few plants that are mysteries to me. If you can identify any of these plants, please comment, letting me know what their names (common and\or scientific) might be. While I like photographing plants, I never feel I’m finished until I know what it is that I photographed! Your help will be greatly appreciated!

No Longer a Mystery Spider Lily (Crinum) Species is still up for grabs - possibly japonicum or asiaticum)

No Longer a Mystery!
Spider Lily (Crinum) species is still up for grabs – possibly japonicum or asiaticum)

Mystery Plant #2

Mystery Plant #2

Mystery Plant #3

Jatropha integerrima (Thanks to Mike W for identifying this plant)

Mystery Plant #4

Thryallis (Thanks to Mike W for identifying this plant)

 

Holy Hanging Heliconia!

hel2 One of my favorite flowers is the heliconia, particularly the hanging lobster claw heliconia (Heliconia rostrata). This tropical flower is one that I’d never seen until taking floral design classes at Longwood Gardens. Hanging lobster claw heliconia is one of those rare flowers that is so unique that once you see it, you’ll never forget it.

Helicoias are related to ginger, bird of paradise and bananas. There are lots of varieties of heliconia – some plants and flowers are small; others are large. Sometimes the flowers are upright while other times they hang. The one thing that’s true for all of the heliconias is that they are tropical plants and their flowers just scream the topics.

Flower of Heliconia Emerging from the Inflorescence

Flower of Heliconia Emerging from the Inflorescence

On a recent trip to Aruba, I found a hanging lobster claw heliconia in full bloom. While I’ve been calling the brightly colored blossom a flower, the truth is that it’s an inflorescence. The flower of the heliconia is small and insignificant; what catches your eye is the inflorescence. The inflorescence of this plants is over two feet long and hangs down among leaves that can reach up to 20 feet in height. This plant doesn’t have traditional stems. The only stems that exist are underground rhizomes; what emerges from the ground are long petioles which support elongated leaves.

Tip of Heliconia Inflorescence

Tip of Heliconia Inflorescence

I would love to grow this plant here in PA but without a greenhouse or a lot of room in my house, the plants are just too big to overwinter. There might be some enterprising gardener out there who’s figured out a way to grow hanging heliconia in the northeast – if so, I’d like to hear about it.

Heliconia Flower

Heliconia Flower

There are smaller heliconias that can more easily be over-wintered but the inflorescences of these plants are small and nothing like the hanging lobster claw heliconia. So I guess for now I’ll just enjoy these flowers (oops, I mean inflorescences) when I see them in a flower shop or if I see one while visiting a tropic locale.

Heliconia Inflorescence

Heliconia Inflorescence

Curcuma Inflorescence and Flowers

Curcuma Inflorescence

The curcuma experiment is going very well. Those strange little rhizomes are now in full bloom. Each one has  produced one flower and more flowers are forming.

But let me stop right there. What I just wrote isn’t technically true. To be botanically correct, I should have written that each curcuma rhizome has produced one inflorescence and that one inflorescence is producing dozens of flowers. What I refered to earlier as a “flower” isn’t a flower at all. It’s an inflorescence. An inflorescence is a group of flowers arranged on a stem. An example of a basic inflorescence is a hyacinth. Each of the star-shaped blooms is a flower but the entire stem of flowers is called an inflorescence.

Curcuma Flower

It wasn’t until the curcuma started to bloom and I looked more closely at it that I realized that I was seeing an inflorescence. The green and pink parts of the inflorescence aren’t petals of a flower but bracts – modified leaves. The true flowers of the curcuma grow out of the area where the bracts and the stems meet and they’re small white and purple blooms. The inflorescence of the curcuma lasts for at least a month; the flowers only last for one day. In this plant, the flowers are insignificant but the inflorescence with its bright-colored bracts is what make it a showstopper.

Poinsettia Flowers

The most well-known plant with showy bracts and small flowers is the poinsettia. What is usually called a “flower” in the poinsettia is once again an inflorescence. The showy red, pink or white “petals” are really modified leaves. The flowers are the small green and yellow clusters at the center of the bracts. The flowers themselves only last for a few weeks while the bracts can remain in good condition for months.

Right now the curcuma is flowering but not in the way I originally thought. I had assumed that the large, pink structures were flowers. They’re not. I have to look closely to see the true flowers of the curcuma. But let’s be honest here – while I know the structure growing above the curcuma leaves is an inflorescence and the pink “petals” are really bracts, on most days I’m just going to call it a flower!

Curcumas in Bloom

It took some time but the curcuma rhizomes I planted in May have begun to bloom. It’s been an interesting journey to get to this point in time.

Curcuma

I planted the five curcuma rhizomes in a large pot in early May. The instructions that came with the rhizomes had stated that it would take a while for them to start to grow. As a result I also planted a wave petunia in the pot so that there would be some color until the curcuma grew. I’m glad I did this or I would have had a pot of bare soil for weeks!

It took a little over a month before the curcuma sprouted and, while the weather was hot and humid, they grew slowly. One by one leaves emerged until the plants had 4-5 leaves and were about a foot tall. Recently two of the plant have sent up a flower stalk and they’re beginning to bloom.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the flower stalks are very sturdy. We had some strong winds but they didn’t affect the curcuma at all. Also this plant has had no insect damage. I’m looking forward to seeing the blossoms as they open more fully and finding out how long they last.

While the plants are smaller than I had expected, I have a feeling that the rhizomes will be a lot larger next year and that the size and number of blossoms should increase. But even if that isn’t the case, this is certainly an interesting plant and one that you’re not likely to see in many backyards.

Curcuma or Cootie?

Over the years I’ve grown lots of different plants from bulbs, tubers, rhizomes and corms. I often laughed when planting instructions provide information on what is the top of the bulb and what is the bottom. I thought it was obvious… that is until this past week.

Recently I’ve been growing more tropical plants in the summer garden. I have the standard canna lilies and hibiscus but I also like to try growing more unusual plants. This year I found rhizomes of curcuma for sale at Roberta’s Unique Gardens and knew that this was the new tropical for 2012.

Curcuma

Curcuma (Curcuma alismatifolia) aren’t very common. I’d never heard of the flower until a few years ago when I was working for a florist and we used them for a wedding. This member of the ginger family is originally from Nepal and has interesting flowers that are sometimes called Siam Tulips.

The rhizomes of the curcuma arrived this week and when I opened the package, I was shocked. I didn’t know whether I was looking at a plant or a “cootie” from the ’60’s Hasbro game! There was a small knob of tissue that had some roots coming off of it, each ending in a bulbous knob. All I could think was “What the….?”

I might have laugh at planting guides in the past, but this time I read it closely. I thought I knew what was the top and what was the bottom but I had to check to make sure since this didn’t look like any rhizome I’d ever seen.

Curcuma Rhizome/Root Structure

Rhizomes are fleshy stems used for storage of food and water. Plants like iris, canna lilies and ginger produce rhizomes. However the curcuma goes one step further in storing food and water. It develops a rhizome but also produces marble-like knobs on its roots for additional storage. The top of the plant is the rhizome; the knobs are the bottom.

The curcuma has already been a learning experience for me. Now that I know “which end is up,” I’ll be planting them in the coming week and will look forward to seeing this interesting tropical grow and bloom.

And I’ll never laugh at a planting guide again!