February Walking Tour – Not-to-Miss Plants in the Tropical Conservatory!

February 2, 2024 Scott Preusser , Conservatory Horticulturist

Before having the chance to work with tropical plants, I never really thought of them as being seasonal, but like plants we grow outside at the Gardens, the tropical collection goes through its own set of seasonal peculiarities. Winter can be a perfect time to dive into the details of the many trails and gardens of the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory.

For almost eight years now, I’ve shared the responsibilities of caring for the plants in this garden. The first two hours of the workday in the Tropical Conservatory are spent pruning, watering and doing other general gardening. One morning while performing these tasks, I found myself thinking about what plants might get missed or overlooked by the average guest during a brief visit to the Tropical Conservatory. I spent a little time walking and coming up with a list of plants that were most likely lost in the beauty of the more than 600 different plants growing in this building.

  • The first plant you might have missed is Gongora fulva (061789)*. This epiphytic (plant that grows on another plant and derives moisture and nutrients from the air and rain) orchid with startlingly beautiful pendulous blooms is mounted on the cork bark epiphyte log on the south path. It blooms sporadically between January and March and is worth keeping an eye out for.
  • There’s another plant that can be easily overlooked, especially since it’s barely over 3 feet tall and has been in its location for 25 years now. It’s the incredibly slow-growing ruffled fan palm, Licuala grandis (972389). It won’t make the cut for next year’s Christmas card but is worth stopping to check out next time you visit.
  • Lastly, I’d like to point out the vanilla orchid, Vanilla planifolia (671133), which grows so well in this garden. Vanilla planifolia is the natural source for vanilla commonly used all over the world. Because this orchid is an epiphytic vine, it’s quite atypical to the look of an orchid. The thick green vine blooms high up when the plant has the chance to grow along other structures, and so the flowers are often missed altogether. Plants of vanilla grown here need to be hand-pollinated to make the precious vanilla bean pods. The best place to see this plant growing at the Gardens is on the south path closer to the top (west end) growing up the Tabebuia heterophylla (982057), or pink trumpet tree.

With the use of our amazing Gardens Navigator the plants discussed here and in our other gardens can be looked at in more detail with additional pictures and map locations. I invite you to clear some time in your upcoming schedule and explore our gardens in more detail than before. And be sure to see the wonderful Orchid Showcase before it ends on February 19.


* The number following the plant name is the plant’s accession number, which allows us to track when a plant entered the collection, along with data specific to its inclusion into our collections. The first two digits represent the last two digits of the year of accessioning, thus 671133 is a plant accessioned in 1967, just one year after the opening of the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory. 

Gallery photos by Scott Preusser


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