Aquatic Plants - What's in Bloom?

The magical pools in the Aquatic Plants Gallery simulate the flow of a river winding through the tropics. The gallery features carnivorous pitcher plants, warm-growing orchids, and brightly painted Heliconia and Hibiscus. Giant taro leaves line the pond and the flowers of hundreds of bromeliads emerge from their water-filled buckets. A sculpture of a Victoria amazonica water lily hangs suspended in the air. The Victoria amazonica, lotus plants, and colorful water lilies grow in the ponds during the summers when water conditions are just right.

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Ananas comosus

Common name: pineapple

 

The pineapple plant is in the bromeliad family. The fruit is actually made up of hundreds of berries that have fused together.

 

On his second voyage to the Caribbean in 1493, Christopher Columbus and his crew were the first Europeans to taste the sweet fruit. Because it resembled a pinecone, Columbus dubbed it “The Pine of the Indies.” It was then introduced to Spain when Columbus brought it back, as a gift, for queen Isabella.

 

In the Victorian Era, the pineapple became an icon of hospitality after seafaring captains placed fresh pineapple on their gateposts to signify the man of the house was at home and receiving guests. They were also a sign of wealth because they were expensive and difficult to procure. Some people who couldn’t afford to purchase them rented pineapples to display in their homes. 

Ascocenda Orchid

 

Ascocenda is a man-made hybrid orchid genus resulting from a cross between Ascocentrum and Vanda. The hybrids often combine the large flower size of the Vanda parents with the color and compactness of the Ascocentrum parents. Ascocenda orchids prefer warm temperatures and bright light.

 

Ascocendas have monopodial growth habit, which means they grow vertically and reach incredible heights. Their height is compounded when a new stem forms from the end of a spent flower spike, and leaves and flowers are then produced along the new stem. Succulent leaves store the nutrients and moisture required for the new growth.

Calanthe Orchid

Native to: Tropical and Subtropical Africa, Asia, and Australia 

 

Calanthe are unlike most orchids in they are terrestrial, meaning they grow in the ground rather than epiphytically on other plants. Also unusual is that the genus is divided into two groups – deciduous species and evergreen species. Many of the species found in the Conservatory are deciduous. The pleated leaves shed at the end of the growing cycle, leaving behind only the pseudobulbs. The new inflorescence emerges from the pseudobulb at the start of the next season.

 

In Greek, calanthe means "beautiful flower". The flower's delicate pink or white petals and sepals form a fan shape that tops the prominent lip.

Gossypium barbadense
Common name: Egyptian cotton, Pima cotton

Location in Conservatory: Potted Plants Gallery

Native to: South America

Gossypium hirsutum is the most widely planted species of cotton in the United States.
After the flowers wither they leave pods which are called cotton bolls. Moist fibers grow inside the boll and push out from the newly formed seeds. As the boll ripens, it turns brown. The fibers continue to expand under the warm sun. The boll then splits and exposes the cotton.
Cotton plants have a variety of other uses. Seeds yield a semi-drying and edible oil, used in shortening, margarine, salad and cooking oils, and for protective coverings. Cottonseed meal is protien rich and is fed to livestock. 
Archeological evidence from Mexico shows the cultivation of this species as long ago as 3,500 BC.

 

The term Egyptian cotton is usually applied to the extra-long staple (ELS) cotton produced in Egypt and used by luxury brands. ELS refers to the unusually long, silky fibers of the cotton boll. The name "Pima" was applied to ELS cotton being developed in the U.S. desert southwest in the early 1900's. The name was given in honor of the Pima Indians who were helping to raise the ELS cotton on the USDA experimental farm in Sacaton, Arizona.

 

After a flower withers it leaves a pod which is called a cotton "boll".  The boll is actually a fruit that contains small seeds surrounded by white fibers.  As the boll ripens, it turns brown. The fibers expand, the boll splits, and cotton is exposed. The fiber is stripped from the seed by ginning and the lint is then processed into cotton. 

Gossypium hirsutum

Common name: cotton

Location in Conservatory: Aquatic Gallery

Native to: Central America

Gossypium hirsutum is the most widely planted species of cotton in the United States.
After the flowers wither they leave pods which are called cotton bolls. Moist fibers grow inside the boll and push out from the newly formed seeds. As the boll ripens, it turns brown. The fibers continue to expand under the warm sun. The boll then splits and exposes the cotton.
Cotton plants have a variety of other uses. Seeds yield a semi-drying and edible oil, used in shortening, margarine, salad and cooking oils, and for protective coverings. Cottonseed meal is protien rich and is fed to livestock. 
Archeological evidence from Mexico shows the cultivation of this species as long ago as 3,500 BC.

 

After a flower withers it leaves a pod which is called a cotton "boll".  The boll is actually a fruit that contains small seeds surrounded by white fibers.  As the boll ripens, it turns brown. The fibers expand, the boll splits, and cotton is exposed. The fiber is stripped from the seed by ginning and the lint is then processed into cotton. 

 

Cotton plants have a variety of other uses. Seeds yield a semi-drying and edible oil used in shortening, margarine, salad and cooking oils, and for protective coverings. Cottonseed meal is protein rich and is fed to livestock. 

Guzmania conifera

Location in Conservatory: Aquatic Gallery

 

With a few exceptions, bromeliads are monocarpic plants. This means that once they are done flowering, the plant dies. Fortunately, the flowers usually last months and many bromeliads produce offsets from the parent plant (also called "pups"). 

 

Guzmanias have spectacular flowers that seemingly last forever. As a result, they are commonly cultivated as house plants. Another attractive feature adding to their popularity is that their leaves have no spikes. Though they are monocarpic, Guzmanias are not easy to keep alive past the flowering stage because they often don't live long enough to produce offsets. 

Heliconia

Common Names: Lobster claws, false bird-of-paradise

Native to: Tropical Americas, Pacific Islands

 

Heliconia is a genus of flowering tropical plants with approximately 225 species. The majority of Heliconia species are native to tropical Central and South America; however, several species are found on islands in the West Pacific. Heliconias thrive in tropical conditions and habitats that have an abundance of water, sunlight, and rich soil. The inflorescence, or cluster of flowers, are quite distinctive and range in colorful hues of red, orange, yellow, and green. The inflorescence consists of brightly colored, waxy bracts (specialized leaves at the base of flowers) arranged alternately on the stem that enclose and protect small flowers.

 

Heliconias support a diversity of ecological relationships with various organisms. Hummingbirds are the principle pollination of Heliconias in the Americas. The flowers produce an abundance of nectar and the color, shape, and curve of the flowers are adapted to specific hummingbird species. Several species of Heliconia open their flowers at night to attract nectar-eating bats for pollination. Additionally, multiple species of bats use the leaves and foliage to construct habitats and shelters. Heliconia species with upright bracts are known to collect rainwater and support a community of minute, aquatic fauna.

 

Interestingly, the name Heliconia is derived from Mount Helicon, a mountain in southern Greece that is known in Greek mythology to be the home of the Muses. 

Hibiscus

Location in Conservatory: Aquatic and Potted Plants Galleries

 

The Hibiscus captures the magic of the tropics by combining the lush, deep greens of the foliage and the bright colors of the flowers. The plant serves many purposes in different cultures. 

The red Hibiscus flower is traditionally worn by Tahitian women. A single flower, tucked behind the ear, is used to indicate the wearer's availability for marriage. Dried hibiscus is edible, and is a delicacy in Mexico. The tea made from hibiscus flowers is known by many names in many countries around the world and is served both hot and cold. The beverage is well known for its color, tanginess, and flavor. Certain species are also beginning to be used more widely as a natural source of food coloring, replacing synthetic dyes.

Many of the 300 species have a classic structure with five overlapping petals arranged in a trumpet-like whorl. A long reproductive column protrudes from the center of the petals. The column is covered with stamens, the “male” part of the flower that produces pollen. At the tip of the column are five spots, or stigmas, which are the “female” part and act as the receivers of the pollen.

Hibiscus schizopetalus

Common name: Japanese lantern

Native to: tropical eastern Africa

 

The red or pink flowers of this Hibiscus are distinctive in their frilly, finely divided petals that curve up and create a globe shape. A long reproductive column protrudes from the center of the petals. The column is covered with stamens, the “male” part of the flower that produces pollen. At the tip of the column are stigmas, which are the “female” part and act as the receivers of the pollen.

Hoya

Common name: wax flower

Location in Conservatory: Potted Plants Gallery, hanging over the entrance from the Lowland Gallery

Native to: Tropical Asia

 

Most Hoyas are vines that grow epiphytically on trees. They have succulent leaves and star-shaped, waxy flowers that range from white to pink. Many species are sweetly scented and produce abundant nectar that attracts flies and ants.

 

The flowers appear in umbellate clusters. An "umbel" is an inflorescence which consists of a number of short flower stalks which spread from a common point, somewhat like umbrella ribs.

Medinilla

Native to: Africa, Madagascar, Asia, Pacific Islands

 

Medinilla are a species of evergreen shrubs with white, pink, or orange flowers. The flowers are arranged on a "panicle", which is a branched cluster of flowers. When pollinated, the plant bares showy berries. The leaves on many species of Medinilla are arranged in a whorl or are alternating. This allows the maximum amount of sunlight to hit each leaf instead of blocking sun from hitting the leaf below it on the stem.

Nepenthes bicalcarata

Common name: fanged pitcher plant

Location in Conservatory: hanging next to the bench in Aquatic Gallery

Native to: Borneo

 

It is a myrmecophyte noted for its mutualistic association with a species of ant, Camponotus schmitzi. Myrmecophytes means "ant-plant". These plants possess adaptations that provide ants with food or shelter. In exchange, ants aid the plant in pollination, seed dispersal, defense, or gathering of essential nutrients.
What makes the N. bicalcarata so unique is that the fluid in the pitcher contains far less acidic enzymes then other Nepenthes species. This is what allows the ants to survive inside the pitcher. They travel down the pitcher walls, drag the drowned insects back up, and then rest the insect on the lip where it is devoured. While eating and swiming, the ant defecates in the pitcher and fertilizes the plant.
The two fangs that give N. bicalcarata its name are unique to this species and bear some of the largest nectaries in the plant kingdom. The purpose of these structures has long been debated among botanists. They have been thought to deter mammals from stealing the contents of the pitchers, though the more intelligent mammals like monkeys have been observed tearing open the side of the pitcher. Other botanists suggest that the spines likely serve to lure insects into a precarious position over the pitcher mouth, where they may lose their footing and fall into the pitcher fluid, eventually drowning and becoming prey to the ants

The fanged pitcher plant is a myrmecophyte noted for its mutualistic association with a species of ant, Camponotus schmitzi. Myrmecophytes means "ant-plant". These plants possess adaptations that provide ants with food or shelter. In exchange, ants aid the plant in pollination, seed dispersal, defense, or gathering of essential nutrients.

 

What makes the N. bicalcarata so unique is that the fluid in the pitcher contains far less acidic enzymes then other Nepenthes species. This is what allows the ants to survive inside the pitcher. They travel down the pitcher walls, drag the drowned insects back up, and then rest the insect on the lip where it is devoured. While eating and swiming, the ant defecates in the pitcher and fertilizes the plant.

 

The two fangs that give N. bicalcarata its name are unique to this species and bear some of the largest nectaries in the plant kingdom. The purpose of these structures has long been debated among botanists. They have been thought to deter mammals from stealing the contents of the pitchers, though the more intelligent mammals like monkeys have been observed tearing open the side of the pitcher. Other botanists suggest that the spines likely serve to lure insects into a precarious position over the pitcher mouth, where they may lose their footing and fall into the pitcher fluid, eventually drowning and becoming prey to the ants.

Nymphaea

Common Name: water lily

Location in Conservatory: Aquatic Gallery

Native to: waterways throughout the northern hemisphere

 

Water "lilies" are not related to true lilies nor are they related to the lotus.  The plant’s name Nymphaea comes from the Greek word for "nymph", which are supernatural feminine beings associated with springs.

 

The blue water lilies found in the Conservatory are striking because of the contrast of the blue sepals and petals and the yellow stamen which contain the pollen.

 

Some Nymphaea need tropical climates and others can be grown in a Bay Area backyard. The leaves of hardy water lilies, which can be grown in non-tropical areas, have smooth edges. The leaves of water lilies found in tropical regions, like the Amazon, have scalloped edges.

Oncidium Orchid

Common name: dancing lady Orchid

Location in Conservatory: Lowland Gallery

Native to: the American tropics, from breezy coastlines to cloud forests

 

Some species of Oncidium have long bouncing stems full of abundant flowers that flutter in the breeze and look like male bees. Pollination occurs when actual angry male bees attack the flowers thinking they are a competitor.

 

The Greek word "onkos" means pad or mass and refers to the fleshy, warty callus on the lip of many species. Some calluses are known to provide oil droplets, which are consumed mainly by bees. The common name, dancing lady Orchid, refers to the elaborate lip that looks like a dress with a full skirt. The petals and sepals look like the arms and head of a tiny lady.

Phragmipedium Orchid

Common name: South American slipper orchid

Location: Potted Plants Gallery

Native to: Mexico, South America

 

Plants in the genus Phragmipedium are new world lady slipper orchids, named after their shoe shaped pouches. The pouch is a modified petal, also called a lip. The pouch traps insects, which are forced to escape through a backdoor exit, depositing pollen as they squeeze out, thus pollinating the flower. A distinct trait of "Phrags" is that their flowers bloom sequentially, one after another. Each bloom lasts about two weeks; meanwhile, another bud is developing. The entire flowering season can last from six to eleven months. Depending on the species, the colors can range from green, to a soft mahogany-pink, to a dazzling orange-red.

Punica granatum 'Nana'

Common names: dwarf pomegranate

 

The pomegranate has been cultivated over millennia throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East, tropical Africa, and southeast Asia. Introduced into Latin America and California by Spanish settlers in 1769, pomegranate is also cultivated in parts of California and Arizona.

 

The pomegranate has been mentioned in many ancient texts, notably in Babylonian texts, the Book of Exodus, the Homeric Hymns and the Quran. 

 

Pomegranates are used in cooking, baking, juices, smoothies and alcoholic beverages, such as martinis and wine. In recent years, it has become more common in the commercial markets of North America and the Western Hemisphere. Manufacturers of pomegranate juice have liberally used evolving research results for product promotion, especially for apparent antioxidant health benefits.

 

The French term "grenade" for pomegranate has given its name to the military grenade. Soldiers commented on the similar shape of early grenades and the name entered common usage.

Sanchezia speciosa

Location in Conservatory: Aquatic Gallery near northeast door

Native to: Peru and Ecuador

 

Sanchezia speciosa is an evergreen shrub that grows in the understory of tropical forests. The large variegated leaves have defined yellow veins and grow in an alternating pattern on the stems. The tubular yellow flowers emerge from red bracts. Many plants in the Acanthaceae family have a tubular flower or corolla and a showy bract, which protects the flower as it forms and attracts pollinators after the flower emerges. Examples in the Conservatory include the yellow and red Thumburgia mysorensis on the arbor in the Potted Plants Gallery and the purple Thumburgia grandiflora vine above the bench in the Aquatic Gallery.

Strophantus gratus

Common Name: climbing oleander

Location in Conservatory: Aquatic Gallery

Native to: West Africa

 

Despite its beautiful rose scent, the winter-blooming Strophantus gratus is actually quite wicked. The plant is a source of ouabain, a glycoside poison that can cause heart problems.

 

Extracts containing ouabain have long been used by Somali tribesmen and other groups to poison hunting arrows. It is rumored that a sufficiently concentrated ouabain dart can bring down a Hippopotamus, probably as the result of respiratory or cardiac arrest. Not realizing their toxicity, Ancient Egyptians and Romans first used plants containing cardiac glycosides medicinally for heart ailments. Modern medicine has since developed synthetic forms of ouabain and tested it as a heart medication and for cancer therapies.