Tropical Species in a Jungle Setting
The classic children’s book hero Curious George would feel right at home in this garden, which features a high forest canopy, an understory of trees and shrubs, climbing vines, and leaves of giant proportions. Plants commonly associated with the tropics grow here, including orchids, bromeliads, gingers, ferns, palms, bamboos, and many members of the calla lily family, such as philodendrons.
Among the bromeliads growing in the garden is Hohenbergia stellata, which blooms for months. Look for lianas, large woody vines that hang from trees. One of these is the chestnut vine, native to Laos.
The fruit and flower clusters of the solitary fishtail palm can grow ten feet long. The Asian species blooms only once, then dies. Giant-leafed elephant ear plants grow near the waterfall. At the bottom of the garden is the ombu tree, which grew from a seedling received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1914. It had been growing in the Buenos Aires Botanical Garden since 1912. An unofficial emblem of Argentina, the tree has an enormous swollen base that evolved to help it cope with grass fires, winds, and scarce rainfall. The rare bamboo Dendrocalamus asper from south Asia can grow from fifty to over one hundred feet tall. Of the many different kinds of bamboo, it is one of the tallest.
The luxuriant leaves of the strawberry snowball tree sometimes hide its lovely pink flowers. As these fall to the ground during its winter blooming season, they create a carpet of pink around the tree. Visitors may spot this native of Madagascar near the Lily Ponds.
Did you know?
A relative of the banana, the traveler’s tree may derive its name from a tendency to orient itself under natural conditions on a north-south axis, supposedly acting as a compass to travelers.
The Jungle Garden Collections
Major trees: The canopies of tall trees--Erythrina spp. (Coral Tree), Ficus thonningii (Thonning's Fig), Pterocarya stenoptera (Chinese Wingnut), Pittosporum undulatum, Phytolacca weberbaueri--protect plants below that are sensitive to frost and sun.
Understory plant groups: Bromeliads, Gingers, Heliconias, Ferns, Cycads (Lepidozamia, Ceratozamia), Bamboo, Bananas, Palms, Begonia, Clivias, Malesian Rhododendrons, Aroids (Philodendrons, Monstera, Anthuriums)
Plants with unusual adaptations: Epiphytes, unlike parasites, grow on other plants without harming the host. They obtain their nutrients from bird droppings, plant debris, and dust, and their water from rain, fog, and dew. Examples: Bromeliads, ferns, orchids
Ferns produce no flowers, seeds or cones. Their sexual cycle depends on the production of spores on the undersides of the leaves and the growth of a plantlet. Tree ferns have "perennial stems" and are not capable of increasing in diameter.
Vines climb trees to reach the light. Lianas are climbing plants characteristic of tropical forests. Examples: Aristolochia brasiliensis.
Some forest plants have large leaves on the bottom branches and small leaves at the top of the plant. Leaves at the bottom need more surface area to catch the light.
Cycads are ancient plants with a fossil history reaching back 1/4 billion years. They range from small plants with underground stems to large plants with trunks that may reach more than 30 feet in height. Cycads are gymnosperms (plants with "naked seeds" not enclosed by an ovary), reproduce by cones and are dioecious. Cones are either male or female and are never found together on the same plant. Cycads have three types of roots: 1) taproots, 2) secondary roots, and 3) coralloid roots (specialized roots near the soil surface containing blue-green algae that help in nitrogen fixation)
Palms are monocots, which means that their seeds have one cotyledon. Palms do not have secondary thickening and are the largest monocotyledons found in most tropical forests. Most palms in the Jungle are shade-loving. Some of the species found in the Jungle Garden are Caryota urens, Juania australis, and more. J. australis, an exceptionally rare palm from the Juan Fernandez Islands, is extinct in the wild and almost unheard of in cultivation until very recently. It is the only known species in the genus. Understory jungle palms, esp. Chamaedorea spp., native to tropical America--the Bamboo Palm (C. seifrizii) and Parlor Palm (C. elegans)--are popular houseplants. The palms in the Jungle Garden are from more tropical areas and are less sun tolerant compared with those in the Palm Garden.