Archives For Andrew Bunting

In the past year, more than 181 million people learned about Spike, Alice the Amorphophallus, and Sprout—the Chicago Botanic Garden’s titan arums (Amorphophallus titanum) that entered a bloom cycle—through various media sources.

Now even more people may have the chance to learn about the unique corpse flower from seedlings sowed at the Garden that have been shared throughout the United States.

It all began about 12 years ago when the Garden procured titan arum bulbs and seeds, which we carefully cultivated until they were ready to flower. With the bloom cycles of Alice and Sprout, we wanted to try to pollinate our plants. In nature, titan arums are pollinated by carrion beetles. Since such insects don’t exist at the Garden, we needed to do the work ourselves. As Spike, Alice, and Sprout are thought to be very closely related (with very similar genetic makeup), we speculated that fertilization with pollen from our first titan—Spike—to Alice would not occur: they were “self incompatible”—a term that often describes a plant species that is unable to be fertilized by its own pollen. So in addition to Spike’s pollen, we looked for genetically different pollen. Fortunately, the Denver Botanic Gardens also had a titan arum (“Stinky”) in bloom last year, and they sent us some of Stinky’s pollen, which we used to pollinate Alice.

After the pollination, Alice developed large, plump red fruits. These fruits were harvested and cleaned, and Deb Moore, part of the Garden’s plant production team, sowed the seeds. The result: about 40 quick-growing seedlings—each a single titan arum leaf

We decided to keep a few seedlings for our own uses, but we really wanted to share these young plants with the broader botanical community. We contacted institutions in the American Public Gardens Association to see if any would be interested in acquiring an Amorphophallus titanum.

We had great response. Seedlings were sent to 27 institutions (see Google map above), including the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden; the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University; the Botanic Garden of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts; Ganna Walska Lotusland in Santa Barbara, California; the University of Idaho Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Moscow, Idaho; Smithsonian Gardens in Washington, D.C.; University of California-Davis Department of Plant Biology; and of course, three seedlings went to the Denver Botanic Gardens to grow alongside Stinky. 


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Search for Rare Oak Species Yields Results

Plant Collecting Collaborative visits Southeastern United States

Andrew Bunting —  January 21, 2016 — 2 Comments

On October 25 last year, I met Matt Lobdell, curator at the Morton Arboretum, in Orange Beach, Alabama, to begin a ten-day plant expedition trip to Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. 

Matt Lobdell had received a grant from the American Public Gardens Association and the U.S. Forest Service in the spring to collect seed of Quercus oglethorpensis from as many genetic populations as possible, so that the breadth of this species could be preserved in ex-situ collections in botanic gardens and arboreta. This expedition was an opportunity to collect this species and other important oak species, as well as other species of trees, shrubs, and perennials that could be added to our collections.

We were targeting the collection of four oaks with conservation status: Oglethorpe oak (Quercus oglethorpensis), Georgia oak (Quercus georgiana), Boynton sand post oak (Quercus boyntonii), and Arkansas oak (Quercus arkansana). All four of these oaks are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which identifies plants that have important conservation status. (Quercus georgiana and Q. oglethorpensis are listed as endangered.)

PHOTO: Matt Lobdell at the Morton Arboretum and Greg Paige at Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory and Arboretum make an herbarium voucher of Quercus boyntonii.

Matt Lobdell at the Morton Arboretum and Greg Paige at Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory and Arboretum make an herbarium voucher of Quercus boyntonii.

Any successful plant expedition is the result of a very collaborative effort. Because we are often looking for hard-to-find species, we rely on local experts. For different parts of the trip we had guidance from Mike Gibson of Huntsville Botanical Garden; John Jensen and Tom Patrick at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources; Brian Keener at the University of Western Alabama, assisted by Wayne K. Webb at Superior Trees; Fred Spicer, CEO of Birmingham Botanical Gardens; and Patrick Thompson of Davis Arboretum at Auburn University.

We were also joined by other institutions that helped with both the collection of seed and the associated data, but also helped with the collecting of two herbarium vouchers for each collection (pressed specimens), which are now housed in the herbaria at the Morton Arboretum and Chicago Botanic Garden respectively. Assistance was provided by Tim Boland of Polly Hill Arboretum; Amy Highland and Cat Meholic of Mt. Cuba Center; Ethan Kauffman of Moore Farms Botanical Garden; and Greg Paige from Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory and Arboretum.

Our expedition begins

On October 26, we collected at Gulf State Park in pelting rain and very high winds that resulted from the remnants of Hurricane Patricia, which had made landfall near Puerto Vallarta days earlier. Nevertheless, we found several small, windswept oaks in this sandy habitat, including Q. myrtifolia, Q. minima, Q. geminata, and Q. chapmanii.

PHOTO: Talladega National Forest

Talladega National Forest

The next day, we moved north to the Talladega National Forest in central Alabama. In addition to collecting more oaks, we made collections of the beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), Euonymus americanus, and the buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). We also saw fantastic specimens of the big-leaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla), but we were too late to find any viable seed.

PHOTO: Quercus boyntonii

Quercus boyntonii

Fred Spicer, CEO of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, joined us the next day, October 28, to take us to several populations of Q. boyntonii, where we were able to make collections for six different populations. He also took us to Moss Rock Preserve in Jefferson County, where we made collections of the Georgia oak (Quercus georgiana). We also made a collection of the Carolina silverbell (Halesia tetraptera).

On October 30, we spent the day in Sumter County, Alabama, with Brian Keener, where we encountered Quercus arkansana, Dalea purpurea, Viburnum rufidulum, and Liatris aspera.

On October 31, we botanized in Blount County, Alabama, at Swann Bridge. Below the bridge was a small river, where we saw an array of interesting plants including the yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima); hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana); a small St. Johnswort (Hypericum prolificum); and a native stewartia (Stewartia malacodendron), in which we were able to find a few seeds. From there we continued on to the Bibb County Glades and collected Silphium glutinosum and Hypericum densiflorum.

PHOTO: Bibb County Glades

Bibb County Glades

PHOTO: Moss Rock Preserve at the habitat of Quercus georgiana

Moss Rock Preserve at the habitat of Quercus georgiana

On the following day, we made another collection of Quercus boyntonii in St. Clair Country and then headed to the Little River Canyon in Cherokee County. This was a rich area filled with native vegetation of many popular plants including the maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), with its wine-red fall color; both the smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), and the oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia); the winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), and the Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus). Interestingly, many of these Alabama natives are perfectly hardy in the Chicago area.

Toward the end of the trip, we headed into Jasper County, Georgia, and met up with John Jensen and Tom Patrick of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, who helped us find populations of Quercus oglethorpensis. In Taylor County, we collected several oaks, including Q. margarettae, Q. incana, and Q. laevis.

We finished the expedition in Sumter National Forest in McCormick County, South Carolina. This was the final collecting site for Q. oglethorpensis, which was cohabiting with Baptisia bracteata and Q. durandii.

PHOTO: Little River Canyon

Little River Canyon

PHOTO: Quercus ogelthorpensis seedlings in Jasper Country, Georgia

Quercus oglethorpensis seedlings in Jasper Country, Georgia

An expedition’s rewards

In total, we made 92 collections of seed and herbarium vouchers. The seed is being grown at both the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Morton Arboretum. Most likely, plants will not be ready for distribution until 2017 and most likely would not be planted into the Garden’s collections until 2018 at the earliest.

In spring 2016, Northwestern University graduate student Jordan Wood will retrace some of our steps in search of leaf samples of Q. oglethorpensis so he can study the DNA and fully understand the genetic breadth of this species throughout its native range from Louisiana to South Carolina.


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

For many years, the Chicago Botanic Garden has made a concerted effort to use new and interesting plants to create innovative “wow” displays. Since coming to the Garden seven months ago, I have been continually impressed with this program and the institutional drive to make plants the priority to draw visitors to the Garden. 

The basic idea behind the “wow” program is to excite our visitors with provocative plantings (or a single fantastic plant). No plant or plants better exemplifies this program than our titan arums Spike and Alice, which created unprecedented “plantmania” at the Garden. Kris Jarantoski, executive vice president and director of the Garden, had speculated that someday the tiny bulbs we received 12 years ago might create a botanical spectacle unequaled in the greater Chicago area, and, well, he was right!

In the summer of 1984, I interned at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida (one year later I would intern at the Chicago Botanic Garden!). It was my first exposure to the incredible ornamental breadth offered by tropical plants. Since that summer, I have been back many, many times to explore the botanical gardens of South Florida, and on occasion, visit the wealth of wholesale nurseries. Thinking that this palette of plants could make for some provocative displays in selected gardens here, I proposed to Kris Jarantoski that our outdoor floriculturist Tim Pollak (better known to our readership as Titan Tim) and I take a five-day trip to Florida to explore the botanical riches of this area with the goal of finding future “wows.”

PHOTO: Fairchild Tropical Garden.

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

With the help of Ian Simpkins, director of horticulture at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami, we put together an ambitious itinerary to explore many of the specialty wholesale nurseries in the Homestead, Florida, area (this area is reported to have more than 2,000 nurseries), but also to see plants displayed in botanical gardens. We started our work on the last day of November. Thanks to Ian, we had a well-vetted list and were able to hit the ground running. During these (mostly) rain-free days, we visited 16 nurseries, and also spent quality time at the Montgomery Botanical Center, Fruit and Spice Park, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.

PHOTO: Coccothrinax crinita.

Coccothrinax crinita

Botanics Wholesale was our first nursery tour stop. Here we saw incredible specimens of palms and cycads including the shaggy-stemmed old man palm, Coccothrinax crinita.

Nearby at Redland Nursery, we received a tour and saw an array of very unusual palms such as the bottle palm, Hyophorbe lagenicaulis, and Hyophorbe verschaffeltii, spindle palm.

We continued our tour of nurseries in the Homestead area with a visit to Bullis Bromeliads. This nursery only features epiphytic plants—specifically bromeliads. (While they are epiphytes in their native habitats, they make an excellent container plant in the summer landscape.)

Bullis offers a broad selection of cultivars of many genera including Aechmea, Androlepis, Billbergia, Guzmania, Neoregelia, Orthophytum, Portea, Puya, and Tillandsia. I love the bold, statuesque aechmeas, with their orange-yellow, strap-like foliage.

PHOTO: Bullis Bromeliads.

Bullis Bromeliads was part of our nursery tour.

PHOTO: Aechmea blanchetiana.

Aechmea blanchetiana

Our next stop was Signature Trees and Palms, and their fantastic collection of extraordinary tropical trees and very large stature palms. This is the nursery to go to if you need a 50-foot-tall specimen palm for your property! We found their beautiful red-leaf introduction of Heliconia spectabilis a possibility for our list.

The following day we focused on visiting the botanical gardens in the Miami area. In the morning we were met by Patrick Griffith, director of the Montgomery Botanical Center, which focuses on the conservation of threatened species of palms and cycads from around the world.

PHOTO: Montgomery Botanical Center.

Montgomery Botanical Center

Adjacent to Montgomery is the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Founded in 1938, its mission is to conserve the world’s diversity of tropical plants. Today, the mature plantings are diverse and are beautifully displayed around a series of lakes.

PHOTO: Heliconia spectabilis.

Heliconia spectabilis from Signature Trees and Palms

PHOTO: Flora in the Madagascar Garden.

Flora in the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s Madagascar Garden

In the afternoon, we met Ian Simpkins—who had helped us organize our tour—at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. This was the winter estate of James Deering, whose family founded Deering Harvester Company (which later became International Harvester Company). The house was built between 1914 and 1922, and is surrounded by elaborate subtropical gardens filled with amazing plantings of cacti, palms, and grasses.

PHOTO: Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Our research expedition finished with a few more exploratory visits to nurseries, including a trip highlight to the diverse and interesting Boynton Botanicals in Boynton Beach, Florida, and its extensive wholesale nursery of palms, elephant ears, begonias, succulents, and other tropical plants.

PHOTO: Begonia 'Bashful Bandit'.

Begonia ‘Bashful Bandit’

PHOTO: Medinilla 'Dolce Vita'.

Medinilla ‘Dolce Vita’

On the last day we traveled to Loxahatchee to visit Excelsa Gardens nursery, and while it was not planned, we literally “saved the best for last.” In addition to having an incredible variety of plants, the nursery offers many fantastic sizes of wonderful specimen-sized plants. In fact, we will reveal that we purchased two specimens of the white elephant palm, Kerriodoxa elegans—noted for its large, fan-shaped leaves with white undersides and black petioles—to display in the Heritage Garden in 2016.

We returned to Chicago with lists of hundreds of future plant prospects, as well as a multitude of design ideas that could be future “wows” for years to come! 


©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org