Thursday, March 22, 2018

Blame the Chandelier Plant, please...

Medinilla magnifica
Yesterday, one of our custodians accosted me (apologetically) and asked if I could come over and answer a question. Some visitors were standing in front of this rather magnificent Melostome (at least I knew the family) and wondered what the name was. Tucked on the south side of Marnie's orchid pavilion (even though my office is tucked to the NORTH side (in another room of course) I rarely come down to this area, and had never seen the plant before...
Medinilla magnifica
Of course, being chronically, acutely and perhaps even fatally temperate when it comes to my plant knowledge (if not my temperament) I didn't have a clue what it was, but promised to look it up: which I've done...and I've gone and done way more than that. I have worked at Denver a full 38 years (next month of course! let's not rush things)...and have written many hundreds of articles, and perhaps 1000 blog entries in various blogs, I've spoken in 150 cities and 12 countries, and I believe this is perhaps the first time I will have written ANYTHING about our tropical collections...yikes!

The answer is simple: I know less about tropical plants than you do, I suspect. I write about what I feel I know just a tad...but I have to admit, walking in and out of Marnie's every day, and through our magnificent Boetcher conservatory almost as often, a bit does rub off! Finally, after many decades (I'm not too far from entering my FIFTH after all), perhaps I should make some pretty enormous amends and share a few pictures I took (I doubt I spent half an hour snapping these yesterday)...and acknowledge the amazing work that our tropical greenhouse staff have done day in, day out for decades while I galavanted among the alpines, desert and temperate plants on the grounds and abroad. (Blogger has spellchecked "galavant"--apparently it's not done much in modern society!)

Do I have an excuse for this gross neglect? I just played the ignorance card (a poor excuse, I admit)--a better one is that our tropical conservatory and the greenhouses supporting it were among the very first major efforts when Denver Botanic Gardens finally came to be: the Boetcher Memorial Conservatory became an instant icon, and before too long was entered onto the Register of Historic Places and even featured as a backdrop to Woody Allen's Sleeper (perhaps an even more significant recognition?

In our climate, with its very long, dry, cold, brown, tan, gray and interminable winters, the prospect of a visit to Denver Botanic Gardens always meant a stroll through the tropics. This has been the symbol of the institution--and for many years so overshadowed everything else we did (the "outside grounds" as we used to call them were pretty hum-drum by comparison) that I didn't feel when I arrived that this needed a champion. Over the decades, the outdoor gardens have gained a mighty luster, and so many other activities and programs have grown up that the Conservatory and tropical collections perhaps have assumed a more modest profile in the awareness of the public. But as I jostle (day in and day out) through throngs of visitors gawking at the tall palm  trees and innumerable photographers trying to get a perfect closeup of this or that tropical gem (and let's not even speak of the gaggles and giggles of school children)...the tropics of Denver deserve to receive their due: for one thing they've propagated themselves! The Zoo has a wonderful Tropical Discovery not only inspired by DBG, but designed and planted by some of our transplanted staff! And Shane Smith, who shall be retiring this month from Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, has acknowledged his inspiration visiting Boetcher as a child and young man growing up in Denver. He's recently overseen the completion of a fantastic Conservatory in Cheyenne  a mere 100 miles away. Not many regions can boast three monumental conservatories so near to one another!

Enough talk: I have labeled as many of the following slides as I could, and the closeups are interspersed with landscape shots. Of course, this is all incomplete--I could have taken twice as many-but this is it for now. My commute every day is through this jungle, day after day, decade after decade. It's about time I gave it its due!

Guzmania 'Hilda'

Ficus cordata ssp. salicifolia

Clerodendrum ugandense

Clerodendrum speciosissimum

Euphorbia punicea

Asclepias currasavica

 Crossandra infundibuliformis

Acalypha hispida

Acalypha hispida


Pachystachys lutea

Pachystachys lutea

Carica papaya

Add caption

Jatropha integerrima

Russelia sarmentosa

Calathea 'Helen Kennedy'

Sanchezia speciosa

Clerodendum speciosum

Clerodendum speciosum       

Theobroma cacao

Brownea ariza

Kerriodoxa elegans

Begonia 'Snowcap'

Blue ring Teal Callonetta leucophrys

Musa itinerans ssp. guangdongensis

Begonia sp.

Calliandra haematocephala

Vriesia hieroglyphica

Thunbergia mysorensis

Thunbergia mysorensis

Areca vestiaria

Heliconia rostrata

Aphelandra sinclairiana

Jatropha multifida

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Scarlet Giant'

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Scarlet Giant'

Aha! If you've made it this far I know you're probably patient enough to put up with another paragraph or two of reminiscences...I apologize to the decades of conservatory staff whom I now realize I have neglected and not properly addressed (especially since my title was "Curator of Plant Collections" for decades, and now "Senior Curator". I realize I've basically been cutator of temperate plant collections and Curator with Senior Moments when it comes to tropicals...

At least a dozen, perhaps more staff have cared for these collections in my tenure beginning with Andrew Pierce (who was Conservatory Superintendent when I started at DBG in 1980). Andrew became my instant champion and dear friend--poor lost soul that I was at the time. I had no office or pied-a-terre when I arrived: Andrew camped me in a corner of his office! When Andrew became Assistant Director, Larry Latta oversaw the greenhouse collections: we always had a jocular, affectionate relationship, and when he retired, Gary Davis began a grand era (completely gutting Boetcher and replanting it! for one thing)...when Gary left, Nick Snakenberg assumed the oversight which continues to this day. Helping them a host of incredibly dedicated staff over the decades, many of whom have become dear friends to me personally (I hesitate to list them all--I know I'll omit some key names)...

In December of 1980 (let's pretend it was Christmas--it might have been) I climbed the highest pyramid at Tikal (in Guatemala) and gazed over the vast Peten rain forest. I recognized only a few Royal Palms, and didn't even know their Scientific name... in fact I knew nothing out there whatsoever. I realized that to dip in with real curiosity there would be no end: the Equatorial rain forests are so complex, so rich and vast a subject it was daunting. And their fate--being felled for cattle grazing and human use at a colossal rate--was so depressing, I decided to exclude anything between the Tropic of Cancer and Capricorn from my ken: I'd stick to the Temperate and Arctic zones where things were not quite so complex or tragic (or so I thought)...I basically was a coward.

I have nevertheless have dutifullly visited dozens, perhaps a hundred or more conservatories over the years: I come back to Boetcher and marvel at how much more artistic, how fresh and well (yet inconspicuously) labeled it is than any other (almost without exception).   I do miss the pre-1997 waterfall. I think the Cloud Forest tree was the most stunning tropical exhibit I've seen anywhere, and it is no more. So I'm not without my quibbles...but I have never felt the need to champion or tout this enormously important part of the work done by DBG and other botanic gardens.

I regret my past decisions and hereby promise to do better!


  1. "Fatally temperate"..... is that 'death by cold species'? Well, you made up for it here; I expect you now have a very high fever! Nice exercise in.... what did we call it in the 90s?.... "tropicalismo"? I shall definitely take a stroll through when I'm there next month.

    1. Still kicking myself that I shan't be there to show you around!

  2. :: Blogger has spellchecked "galavant"--apparently it's not done much in modern society! ::

    Oh, it's still done, but it's spelled 'gallivant'. Nobody gallivants around a conservatory like you! Thanks for this dose of warmth and color as many of us wait out the late snows.

    1. Thanks for the correction, Nell! I should have trusted Blogger: I shall leave the solecism (the one glaring mistake in hundreds of perfectly spelled and flawlessly grammatical postings!)

  3. Have you ever seen Pinguiculas included in any of the conservatories you have visited? I have never seen them included in conservatories. Tropical Pinguiculas are one of my favorite terrarium plants, yet I have never seen one at a botanic garden.

    1. Not perhaps in conservatories--but every self-respecting botanic garden I know has some pretty wonderful collections in pots in spaces dedicated to insectivorous plants, including us at DBG! It would be nice to see them tucked along a streamside as they so often are in nature.

  4. Those are some beautiful looking plants, thanks for sharing!

  5. Thank you for "stretching" Panayoti, and extending yourself to the benefit of all involved in horticulture - that's why we all love and admire you. You are "the" man.


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