THE RARE, CURIOUS AND JUST PLAIN AWESOME WITHIN THE UCONN GREENHOUSES

ANT PLANTS, LIKE THIS MYRMECODIA SPECIES,  HAVE SWOLLEN STEMS IN WHICH ANTS LIVE – THIS ONE T THE UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT / STORRS GREENHOUSES IS CUT TO SHOW THE INTERIOR STRUCTURE WHICH LOOKS VERY MUCH LIKE AN ANT COLONY. POPULAR WITH A SMALL GROUP OF PASSIONATE COLLECTORS. 

As this year comes to a close, and now that I have a little free time, I felt that I should accept the invitation from my friend Glen Lord to bug our mutual friend, and fellow member of the Cactus and Succulent Society, Dr. Matt Opal and tour the University of Connecticut greenhouses in Storrs, CT. Storrs CT, is a short 20 minute drive from my house located in central Connecticut, and on this rather mild December day, we decided to spend a few hours touring the many greenhouses at this agricultural school conveniently situated amidst classic New England white farm houses, nineteenth century red barns and the rolling farmland hills of central Connecticut.

MY FRIEND GLEN LORD OBSERVING SOME TROPICAL ANTHURIUMS IN THE UCONN GREENHOUSES

Once inside, we were met with the warmth of steam pipes and the steamy heat of an equatorial rain forest – well, OK, we first entered into the Equatorial Africa house, which somehow was perfect for any December day. The horticultural and botanical delights were  outstanding and I encourage you all to visit your local university ( check first if the accept visitors) if only to experience what few botanic gardens do offer today – botanical diversity and highly interesting, if not educational and certainly inspiring collections of plants rarely seen outside of a handful of collections.

FEW PLANTS ON EARTH ARE AS RARE AS THIS ONE IS – Brighamia insignis, FOUND ONLY ON THE ISLAND OF KAUAI, THERE ARE ONLY SEVEN MATURE SPECIMENS LEFT IN THE WILD, AND IT’S ONLY KNOWN POLLINATOR IS NOW EXTINCT.
WHEN VIEWED FROM ABOVE AND ADJACENT BUILDING ON CAMPUS, ONE CAN SEE THE SCALE OF THESE GREENHOUSES USED FOR BOTH RESEARCH AND PUBLIC VISITS.

THE UNIVERISTY KEEPS A COLLECTION OF ERIOSPERMUM, A SUMMER DORMANT GEOPHYTE WHICH IS NOW ON MY COLLECTING RADAR.  Clock wise from top left: Eriospermum cervicorne, E. cervicorne from another collection, and E. cf. dregei.

NO RARE COLLECTION WOULD BE COMPLETE WITHOUT THIS PLANT – Welwitschia mirabilis, the Tree Tumbo from one of the driest places on Earth, the Namib Desert where it enjoys occaisional coastal fog. It is known as one of hte longest lived plants on our planet with some specimens considered older than 1500 years. Indeed, a living fossil.
Amorphophallus konjak tubers, resting near a pool in the greenhouse. They will soon start growth once potted up again in the spring.
More Amorphophallus tubers resting through the winter under a bench – what a great idea as I kept mine in pots of dry soil, and they still rotted in the greenhouse.
THE AMAZING FOLIAGE OF Tylecodon singularis A PLANT FROM NAMIBIA, WITH A SINGLE, SUCCULENT LEAF WHICH LOOKS VERY MUCH LIKE A THICK, BEGONIA LEAF WITH A MORE INTERESTING TEXTURE.
I HAVE YET TO BUILD AN INTEREST IN INSECT EATING PLANTS, BUT THIS ONE MIGHT CHANGE MY MIND – MEET Drosophyllum lusitanicum, THE PORTUGUESE SUNDEW WHICH GROWS ON SANDY HILLSIDES NEAR THE SEA ON THE IBERIAN PENINSULA AND IN MOROCCO.

THIS BRAZIL NATIVE HAS AMAZING FLOWERS WHICH ARE ATTACHED DIRECTLY TO THE STEM. Pavonia strictiflora MAKE AN ATTRACTIVE WINTER-BLOOMING GREENHOUSE TREE.

I COLLECT AND GROW MANY SOUTH AFRICAN BULBS, BUT THIS IS ONE WHICH WAS NEW FOR ME – Brunsvigia namaquana, ONE OF THE MANY SOUTH AFRICAN  PLANTS IN THE UCONN COLLECTION FROM THE QUARTZITE AND GRANITE OUTCROPS OF THE CAPE.

ANOTHER PLANT FROM THE QUARTZITE RIVERBEDS AND DESERTS ARE THESE Conophytum berger RAISED FROM SEED COLLECTED IN SOUTH AFRICA.THE SPERICAL ORBS LOOK LIKE EXACTLY LIKE THE RUBBLE OF QUARTZ IN WHICH THEY GROW. 

I WAS SO HAPPY TO SEE THAT THEIR CONOPHYTUM AND LITHOPS SEED POTS LOOK VERY MUCH LIKE MINE. PERHAPS THERE IS HOPE FOR MY COLLECTION WHICH I SOWED LAST SUMMER.
THE MANY GREENHOUSES AT UCONN ARE KEPT AT DIFFERENT TEMPERATURES AND MOISTURE LEVELS, RANGING FROM THE DRYER DESERTS OF CHILE AND SOUTH AFRICA, TO THE HUMID JUNGLES OF EQUATORIAL AFRICA.

Canarina canarensis HAS BEEN ON MY WISH LIST FOR SOME TIME NOW. THE CANARY ISLAND BELLFLOWER FROM TENERIFE, CANARY ISLANDS SEEMS LIKE A PLANT THAT WILL DO WELL IN MY GREENHOUSE.
EVERY PLANT HAS A STORY, AND THIS ONE SOUNDS LIKE A HORROR MOVIE. THE BUG PLANT, Roridula dentata FROM THE WESTERN CAPE OF AFRICA IS A SHORT SHRUB WITH VERY STICKY HAIRS WHICH TRAP INSECTS. THE TWIST IS, THIS PLANT IS NOT AN INSECTIVEROUS PLANT, RATHER IT ALSO HAS A SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP WITH ANOTHER BUG, A Pameridea species, WHICH EATS THE TRAPPED INSECTS.

A VISIT TO A BOTANIC GARDEN OR A UNIVERSITY GREENHOUSE COLLECTION ALWAY INSPIRES ME, AND MY WISH LIST INSTANTLY GROWS. I ADORE THIS Bulbine bruynsii, BUT SADLY IT IS REPORTEDLY THREATENED DUE TO ROAD CONSTRUCTION, AND AT THE SAME TIME, CHALLENGING TO GROW AS WELL.

IF I INCLUDED ALL OF THE IMAGES THAT I TOOK OF THE UCONN PELARGONIUM COLLECTION, I COULD FILL ABOUT TEN OTHER POSTS. HERE ARE JUST A FEW. NO COMMON GERANIUMS HERE!
LASTLY, ANOTHER SAD TALE – Agathis moorei, THE MOORE KUARI FROM NEW CALEDONIA IS ANOTHER RARE PLANT OF WHICH MORE GROW IN CAPTIVITY, THAN IN IT’S NATIVE HABITAT WHERE IT IS THREATENED DUE TO HABITAT LOSS. 

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