Trip Report: Prayer plants in the Climatron

The Climatron is a 50-year old geodesic dome that serves as a tropical greenhouse at the Missouri Botanical Gardens (MoBot).  During our Aroid meeting at the MoBot (back in April) the Climatron was closed as they were setting up a dinosaur exhibit for the next weekend.  Thankfully we got “back stage passes” into the Climatron with our staff escorts!

Outside of the Climatron
Outside of the Climatron

The Climatron is much like the Myriad Botanical Gardens in Oklahoma City, with which I have become very familiar.  The center is at a height of 70 feet and by my calculations, the ground space is about 24 thousand square feet.  The Climatron has many of their plant families grouped together that are more scattered in the Myriad Gardens.  For instance, there are two areas in the Climatron devoted only to Begonias and to prayer plants (Marantaceae family), respectively.  The only other venue where I have seen as many Marantaceae would be the Foster Botanical Gardens in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Some of the Marantaceae in the Climatron
Some of the Marantaceae in the Climatron.

I was really excited to see this dedicated area for prayer plants, since they are my second favorite family of plants.  The greatest thing was that almost all of them were in bloom and I have only seen blooms on these plants on a couple of rare occasions.

Group of Calathea albertii
Healthy group of Calathea albertii

The impressive species display was the Calathea albertii grouping (above and below).  These plants are obviously very happy in this growing environment, having spread out quite a bit and blooming like crazy.  I was ever so tempted to ask for an offset.

Calathea albertii in bloom
Calathea albertii in bloom

There are many colorful hybrid Calatheas sold as houseplants at Lowe’s nowadays.  I think most of these are variations or hybrids based on the Calathea roseopicta species (below), which has pretty stunning color as a naturally-occurring species.

Calathea roseopicta
Calathea roseopicta
Calathea burle-marxii
Calathea burle-marxii in bloom

Calathea burle-marxii (above) is the species that I have had the best success growing in my greenhouse.  My plants haven’t bloomed before, but it looks like I wasn’t missing out on much.  Small white flower petals emerge from an otherwise boring green bract that kind of resembles some Bromeliad bloom bracts.

Calathea fucata
Calathea fucata

Calathea fucata (above) was one of the few species that was not in bloom.  It leaves me all the more curious about what it’s blooms might look like.  I guess I’ll just have to go back for another visit sometime…

Calathea violacea
Calathea violacea in bloom

The plant below puzzles me a little bit.  I didn’t get an ID on the plant, but comparing the leaves, it is very similar to the identified Calathea violacea (pictured above).  The blooms look different, but I am wondering if I just caught the blooms at different stages and it is the same species.  I’ll try to recruit some expert Calathea help to get that question answered.

Calathea NOID
Calathea violacea? in bloom

Now Calathea zebrina (below) is one of my favorite species.  I have seen this plant a couple of times in person.  There were some beautiful specimens at the Foster Botanic Gardens that were in bloom while we were there.  The plants in the Climatron seemed monstrous in comparison, though.  The zebrina species has very velvety textured leaves with solid purple undersides.  The thick stems of these plants almost reminded me of banana trees.

Calathea zebrina
Forest of tall Calathea zebrina - the tallest being 6 feet or more.

One of the most common “prayer plants” is Maranata leuconeura v. kerchoveana (below).  Okay, so it’s not the easiest name, but it is one of the more common house plants from this family.  But you don’t very often get to see these plants blooming in the house setting.  Obviously these plants are grown for their striking foliage, but I think the blooms are pretty neat, anyway.  Look at the closeup below.

Maranta leuconeura v. kerchoveana
Maranta leuconeura v. kerchoveana in bloom
Maranta leuconeura v. kerchoveana
Maranta leuconeura v. kerchoveana bloom closeup

Stapelia bloom opened

The event began Saturday morning.

I had been waiting for a week or more, not knowing how long the bud would stay so large before opening.  We had a little scare on Wednesday when Norman was shaken by an earthquake – a real one.  The US Geological Survey is declaring it a 4.3, after initially saying 4.5.  The Oklahoma Geological Survey is saying it was a 5.1.  Regardless, it was felt by everyone in town and as far away as the Dallas/Ft. Worth metro area, the Tulsa metro area and southern Kansas.  That’s a pretty good distance – 3 states in all.

My Stapelia was on the front porch at the time and pretty top heavy.  It tipped over and the biggest bud tore just a little bit.  I was worried that it wasn’t opening because of the tear, but on Friday night I noticed that 2 of the “seams” of the bud were beginning to part.

Stapelia gigantea bloom
Stapelia gigantea bloom (click image for larger)

When I went to check on my Ficus seed trays Saturday a little before lunch time I noticed my Stapelia had finally opened.  You can see the tear in one of the petals above.

Stapelia gigantea detail
Stapelia gigantea detail (click image for larger)

The stink of the bloom is not very far-reaching.  You really have to get your nose up in it, but it smells just like a dead animal when you do.  We spent this weekend tiling our kitchen and when we went out to lunch we left the back door open with fans running.  When we got home I checked on my Stapelia again (of course) and found the largest housefly I’ve ever seen sitting on the bloom.  It almost looked like someone had gotten one of those fake plastic flies and stuck it on there just to give me a hard time.  I grabbed for my camera and the fly flew away!

Stapelia gigantea hairs
Stapelia gigantea hairs (click image for larger)

This Stapelia bloom is so interesting.  It’s close to a foot in diameter.  (I didn’t measure, but I really should do that tonight.)  It has long pubescens (hairs) all over the inside of the flower, which you can see pretty well in the photo above.  And it is striped with these red/brown lines which are more concentrated towards the center of the flower.

I put the plant on our dining table and laid the flower flat in order to take some closeup pictures.  As I moved the plant around, I noticed the petals of the flower would catch on the table and fold up a little bit, making the bloom look even more like the starfish that so many people have compared it with.  It truly looked like it was walking along the table.  It’s actually worth videoing – another thing to do this evening!

Yesterday (Sunday), the petals had already curved back behind the center of the bloom.  I don’t know how long the bloom will last, but I’m hoping for about a week, so that I can get all my friends to come over and see it before it perishes.

Stapelia bud soon to open

My Stapelia gigantea buds have been getting very large.  It seems like every day they are larger and can’t get larger, but the next day they surprise me.  I guess the species name gigantea is an apt description for this plant.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the largest bud opens in the next week or so.  The second largest bud will probably trail by a week.  If the smaller buds mature, they could be as much as a month later, since they are still pretty small.

Stapelia gigantea bud on October 1, 2010.
Stapelia gigantea bud on October 1, 2010.
Stapelia gigantea bud on October 6, 2010.
Stapelia gigantea bud on October 6, 2010.

To watch this bud grow more each day has been exciting!

Stapelia gigantea bud on October 10, 2010.
Stapelia gigantea bud "inflating" on October 10, 2010.

Recently the bud has been getting broader, almost as if it is being inflated like a balloon.  If you gently grip the bud you can tell that it is taught and seems like it will pop open any day.

Stapelia gigantea bud on October 12, 2010.
Stapelia gigantea bud on October 12, 2010.

I had to move all of my plants into the greenhouse last week (including my Stapelia) when we had a oncoming frost.  I’ve been moving it back out onto the front porch during the day to give it a little more light since my greenhouse is still shaded.  I don’t know whether I want it to bloom on the front porch, greeting visitors with it’s pungent odor.  Or I could move it into the greenhouse for the blooming event, but that will probably magnify the odor, since it is a confined space.  Hopefully I’ll have some open bloom pictures soon!

Endangered Oklahoma orchid

The Oklahoma grass pink orchid (Calopogon oklahomensis) was discovered by Douglas H. Goldman in 1995.  It is a terrestrial orchid native to several states in the central United States, growing in prairies, savannas, woodlands, the fringes of bogs and mowed meadows.  The actual locations where these orchids can be found are patchy.

Distribution map for Calopogon oklahomensis
Distribution map for Calopogon oklahomensis (source: http://flora.huh.harvard.edu)

Recently this orchid has been listed as endangered in some states and may be protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) soon, based on the results of studies from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  As you can see on the map, the actual range is fairly small and some of the locations where it grows wild are being transitioned to other land uses.

Calopogon oklahomensis
Calopogon oklahomensis growing in northwestern Arkansas, May 2009. (Photo courtesy Steve Marak)

For a while this orchid was thought to be another species (Calopogon tuberosus), but it flowers at a different time of year and has some distinctive differences when closely examined.  The flowers of this orchid are quite distinct, with color from light pink to darker purple with delicate yellow hairs.

My hope is that someone will make an effort to collect and propagate some of this species before it is listed as protected by the US government.  If it can be cultivated then it could be re-released into protected and suitable habitats if the wild numbers decrease further.

There are some really good pictures of this orchid elsewhere on the internet.  Check on flickr.

Saucer Magnolia cones

I have grown up around the so-called “southern” Magnolia trees (Magnolia grandiflora) and I am very familiar with the cones which form after the flowers have died.  And I am familiar with the big red seeds that fall from the cones.  In fact, I have picked up a lot of these cones in my backyard, so I wouldn’t run over them with the lawn mower.

Magnolia grandiflora seed cone
Magnolia grandiflora seed cone

It took some convincing before I came around to the idea that the “Tulip Trees” I saw in Portland, Oregon several years ago were another variety from the Magnolia genus (Magnolia x soulangeana).  These trees are also called “Saucer Magnolias.”  I have had a small Saucer Magnolia in my front yard now for about 7 years, but the resemblance to the more familiar Magnolia grandiflora is still abtruse.  Until last week, that is…

I was driving home and passed a large Saucer Magnolia on a neighboring street.  Our Saucer Magnolias bloom in the spring and early summer before the leaves come out.  As the blooms are wilting the leaves come out and the trees are covered in bright green leaves the rest of the growing season.  Occasionally our tree has produced another couple of blooms in the late summer or early fall, when the temperature is just right and there has been plenty of rain.  But what I was seeing on our neighbor’s tree were not more blooms.  It was definitely something else – something I had never seen before.

Magnolia x soulangeana cone
Magnolia x soulangeana cone

The tree was covered in pink growths that looked a bit like fruit.  Since I was driving at the time, I decided to come back on foot and look more closely.

Magnolia x soulangeana seeds
Magnolia x soulangeana seeds

What I saw was very different from the cones that form on our Southern Magnolia, but also very similar.  The bright pink color and smooth texture are very different from the fuzzy brown cones that form on our Southern Magnolia.  However, the red seeds that were emerging from some of these pink cones was very distinguishable and identical to our Southern Magnolia.