February 8, 2018 | Nick Snakenberg, Curator of Tropical Collections and Associate Director of Horticulture

Be sure to stroll the paths of the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory where you can enjoy plenty of non-orchid tropical blossoms. Although we are often focused on beautiful flowers, tropical foliage can have its own special appeal. While stopping to “smell the roses,” why not give a little attention to plant foliage too.

One of the first plants you might notice as you enter the Tropical Conservatory from our main lobby area is Codiaeum variegatum var. pictum, also known as croton. Crotons are native to southern India and are a great houseplant for high-light areas. There are many crotons on display throughout the Tropical Conservatory with varying leaf forms and color combinations, however the plant by the front entrance may be my favorite. It was added to the Gardens' collections in February of 1965 and was a gift to the Gardens from the Missouri Botanical Garden for inclusion in the first plant displays in our Tropical Conservatory when it opened in 1966.

As you make your way deeper into the Tropical Conservatory you will notice several banana plants. The most impressive may be Musa itinerans var. guandongensis, a banana native to the Guandong province of southeast China. While the size of the leaves and the height of the growths are impressive, perhaps the most dramatic feature of this banana is its aggressive suckering growth habit. Be sure to look at the base of the plant and you’ll see why we planted it in a contained area.

Another plant with striking foliage is Calathea lancifolia. This plant belongs to the family Marantaceae, or the prayer plant family. This common name was given because many species in this plant family have leaves that fold upward in the evening hours as if folded in prayer. This particular species is from Brazil and has spectacular foliage. Be sure to look for other Calathea throughout the Tropical Conservatory.

In the southwest corner of the Tropical Conservatory you will find a ficus tree with amazing foliage. Ficus aspera is native to Vanuatu and is easily recognized by its amazing variegation – even the fruit is variegated. Be sure to also take a moment to appreciate the tree’s contorted trunk form as well.

As you enter Marnie’s Pavilion at the west end of the Tropical Conservatory, you will see another unusual ficus – Ficus americana. This large tree may look like the more familiar Ficus benjamina, but as the name implies, F. americana is native to Central and South America while F. benjamina is native to tropical Asia and northern Australia. Did you know that ficus flowers are all pollinated by wasps?

Be sure to notice the beautiful complimentary foliage colors as well as the orchid blossoms in the Orangery. Don’t forget to look through the glass to the more unusual orchid blooms on display in our collection greenhouses.

We hope you enjoy your visit!

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