Most of the permanent tropical plantings in the conservatory hail from the tropics, a band encircling the earth north and south of the equator with mean temperatures above 64° F year round. Some areas are constantly hot and wet, while others have a relatively short rainy season followed by protracted dry weather and, despite the constant heat, still others are classified simply as dry, arid or semi-arid — think Australian Outback and the Sahara Desert.
The signage accompanying each plant gives its botanical and common names, family affiliation and country of origin. Study these and you will find some surprising plant relationships amid the zesty, tropicalismo aesthetic.
- The star fruit tree, Averrhoa carambola, belongs to the oxalis family consisting of mostly small plants having leaves suggestive of clover. Compare the golden fruit to a seedpod from an oxalis and you will see the similarity.
- Tapeworm plant, Homalocladium platycerium, is infinitely more attractive than its common name suggests and might be mistaken for a fern. Instead, it belongs to the buckwheat family — think pancakes.
- The chenille plant, Acalypha hispida, with its long fuzzy flowers belongs to the spurge family, the Euphorbiaceae, along with the Christmas poinsettia and the many different crotons whose leaves bring color to the conservatory all year.
- The traveler’s palm is not a true palm but rather a member of the bird-of-paradise family named Ravenala madagascariensis. There are two theories about the common name — one is that rain collects in the leaf stalk sheaths and could quench the thirst of a weary traveler; the other, more likely theory is that the leaf fans orientate themselves east-west and could act as a compass.
A tumbling waterfall in the conservatory attracts visitors of all ages, along with the koi. There are no birds except for the occasional interloper that has managed to stowaway through the occasional opening in the horticultural corridor.