Sunday, October 23, 2011

10.1 Suspects in the Conservatory

Krohn Conservatory is where they keep the plants in Cincinnati. You won’t find many of these 3,500 species in my garden – or yours.
You will find a rainforest waterfall and hundreds of exotic plants on permanent display in the Palm, Tropical, Desert and Orchid houses, among other features, in free to the public Krohn Conservatory, located in Eden Park, one of Cincinnati’s well maintained urban parks.
The conservatory’s special collections include the Bonsai Collection, a roomful of mature but knee-high firs, pines and oaks that make you think there should be tiny Hobbits running around underneath them. A true fantasy forest in miniature.
The Desert Garden hosts succulents and cacti with principal families with names such as agaves, aloes, crassulas, yuccas, cereus, opuntia and pereskia – according to the sources I found online; these names are well beyond my competence. If I’ve got this right, a subset of one these families (cassulaceae) includes the sedum plants many of us have in our garden. Some of our Autumn Joy sedum are still flowering in a sunny, streetside spot in front of our house.
Low, spreading groundcover sedum, which flower in early summer, are marketed as “stonecrop” sedum. Stonecrop, I learn, is a term used for all the members of this plant family because of their ability to flourish on stony ground.
As summer was ending this year, I transplanted some well-diffused stonecrop sedum into a spot beside a steppingstone walk and gathered all the smaller stones I could put my hands on to lace in between the plants. So far, so good. Stonecrop sedum just naturally looks rights around stones.
The conservatory’s indescribably lush, credibility-mocking Palm House dominates the building’s 45-foot high central spine; here’s where you find that rainforest waterfall and a goldfish pond with some suspiciously large orange fish. These are not your 99 percent goldfish; these are the gobbling-up 1 percent.
The big canopy trees here are the palm trees, rubber trees and banana trees. The really cute (in a bizarre sort of way) thing about these imagination-stretching rain forest characters is that they also provide homes for “epiphytic” plants – plants that derive moisture and nutrients from other plants – such as bromeliads, orchids and ferns growing from them.
On our visit we found plants labeled “bromeliad” everywhere in this conservatory. It’s enough to make you want to learn something about them. The first thing you discover, to give an idea of the bromeliad’s range, is that the pineapple is one of them. It’s kind of a poster child for a family – “I’m a major fruit, the rest of you guys are just weird” – of 3,000 species native mainly to tropical climates in the western hemisphere.
Judging from the ground-hugging bromeliads we noticed in the conservatory’s rainforest rooms (Palm House and Tropical House), the tightly overlapping leaf structure at the plant’s base appears to be the common characteristic, at least to the unaided eye. The family’s diversity includes something called “tank bromeliads,” epiphytic plants, and a large number of desert-dwelling succulents which means we also found bromeliads in the Desert House.
It was in the Desert house, where the cool dry air creates a world’s-away climate that we found some gaps in the foliage and decided to them with the unlikely flowers you can see in the photo above.