Enjoy the beauty of the display gardens from your own computer screen! These seasonal tours of the Chicago Botanic Garden are led by Garden staff and offer interesting details you might have missed on your last visit. Each garden changes throughout the year, so visit often to watch it evolve.
Sunshine is the latest corpse flower at the Chicago Botanic Garden to bloom.
A member of the Aroid plant family (Araceae) from Sumatra, it has a number of titan arum relatives at the Garden from around the world.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) and Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) are the two most common Chicago natives in this family. Other relatives hail from continents, regions, countries, and islands. Taxa growing at the Garden have the following native ranges: North America, Northeastern United States and Canada, Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, Russian Far East, Kamchatka Island, Sakalin Island, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sumatra, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Greece, Republic of Georgia, Spain, Italy, India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Tibet, Burma, Himalayan Mountains, Yemen, Mexico, Central America, Panama, Guatemala, Caribbean Islands, South America, Colombia, Peru, South Africa, and Lesotho.
Not only is it widespread, the members are also adapted to a number of environments from hot, humid Sumatra rain forests where Sunshine calls home to cold, temperate deciduous forests, temperate and tropical wetlands, Mediterranean climates, and deserts.
The Araceae is one of the larger plant families, containing 117 different genera. The Garden features 27 of those genera containing 152 species and cultivars. Our GardenGuide smartphone app features the locations where Sunshine’s family can be seen throughout the Garden. Many are grown ornamentally for their attractive leaf shape (philodendrons, anthuriums) and colorations (elephant ears, caladiums, dieffenbachia, pothos, taro) while others, anthuriums and Calla lilies chief among them, are grown for their attractive flowers. While not all members of the family smell bad—the Calla lily, for instance, has a light citrus fragrance and anthuriums don’t have any fragrance at all—many are real stinkers with common names like Dead Horse Arum, Dead Mouse Arum, and Corpse Flower.
Most members of the family contain a number of compounds (often including calcium oxylate crystals) in their sap to deter herbivores that illicit a mechanical gag reflex in people. Calcium oxylate crystals look like glass shards on steroids under a microscope and play havoc with the soft tissues of the inside of the mouth, tongue, and throat. The most notable food crop in this family? Taro, or poi. Preparation of the starchy tubers have adapted techniques over the centuries that remove the toxic compounds.
Ready for an Aroid treasure hunt?
Find these titan arum relatives as you stroll the Tropical Greenhouse, where a titan arum leaf is also housed. Can you spot the family resemblance?
President’s Day was established in 1885 as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents past and present. It also seems to be just the right day for me to share the highlights of my visit to the White House with you.
Smack dab in the middle of last fall’s Cubs playoff series against the Mets, on the same day that Vice President Joe Biden walked into the Rose Garden to announce to the world that he would not be pursuing a run for the White House, I was…well, I was there in that hardworking garden. I’d been invited to visit the vegetable garden at the White House and tour the grounds. I repeat, I was at the White House visiting the First Lady’s Kitchen Garden!
The White House is “The People’s House” and its garden is the iconic “America’s garden.” I’d come on a visit facilitated by Andrew Bunting, director of plant collections and assistant director of the Chicago Botanic Garden—a fresh leader in a generation of garden advocates, a man with gardening friends in high places, possessing the ability to cut through red tape with a machete (stealing a lyric from a Cake song). The White House gardener, Jim Adams, graciously received me as a consultant for the White House Kitchen Garden, an arrangement we’d made when he visited the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden only a month before.
Established in 1791, the President’s Park is the official name for the 82 acres surrounding the White House. Originally laid out by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a Frenchman who fought in the War of Independence, the French formal perspective stands today much as it was planned. Working with George Washington, a farmer and horticulturist, together they envisioned the official residence surrounded by a botanical garden, and the building began.
John Adams became the first president to occupy the White House in 1800, and he requested that a vegetable garden be plowed as a means to supply fresh produce for the nearly 30 people he was responsible for feeding. His request was never realized as he lost his bid for reelection to none other than America’s founding gardener, Thomas Jefferson. Our third president had a strong interest in plants and took on the planting of specimen trees around the grounds and cultivated figs, strawberries, orange trees, and his favorite geraniums inside his sunny office. While none of his trees survive today, it was he who planted rows of sycamore, poplar, and cedar with oak, chestnut, and linden trees on the north side of the White House. (The south grounds were more private and pastoral in design, and eventually iron fences secured the interior 18 acres of private garden around the house, dividing it from the public garden.) Today, 500 trees thrive within this iron fence.
As one of the earliest proponents of forestry in the United States, President John Q. Adams planted an American elm (Ulmus Americana) in 1826. (With all the monumental trees, there is a succession plan, so when it needed to be removed in 1991, Barbara Bush’s propagated replacement was planted in the same place.) In 1830, President Andrew Jackson planted the famous Magnolia grandiflora. President Rutherford B. Hayes planted Ohio buckeyes (Aesculus glabra) in honor of his home state. Hayes was the president who introduced the idea of planting commemorative trees to honor presidential tenure or upon historical events. He wanted a tree representing each president and his state as well as each state in the Union. Today, 40 commemorative trees stand on the grounds, cultivated to be excellent specimens of their genus.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower planted northern red oak, Quercus rubra in 1959, President John F. Kennedy planted four Magnolia × soulangeana in 1962. President Clinton planted a pair of white dogwoods, Cornus florida,and President Barack Obama planted littleleaf linden Tilia cordata in 2009—the same tree President George H.W. Bush planted with Queen Elizabeth II in 1991. I held the shovel that commemorates the day each president dug the first shovelful of soil to plant his great tree!
As we walked around the grounds, passing by the putting green and the basketball court, the deeply personal nature of this botanic backyard garden became clear. I could only imagine the solace the garden provided to the families and children while they lived here. This was most evident in the intimate Children’s Garden that had been added to the south lawn by Lady Bird Johnson. Many of the presidents’ grandchildren have impressions of their hands of the paths of this secret garden.
Making our way down to the southwest corner of the lawn, we finally arrived at the White House Kitchen Garden. Centuries ago, President John Q. Adams planted fruit trees, herbs, and vegetables on the grounds; First Lady Michelle Obama was the first to plant vegetables since the Roosevelts planted a Victory Garden at the White House.
The four-season garden is grown in raised beds planted with more than 50 varieties of seeds, many of them heirlooms. One of the beds commemorates the varieties Thomas Jefferson planted in his garden at Monticello. Heirloom lettuce, brussels sprouts, beets, kale, and artichoke seed have been saved and passed down in preservation of our agricultural history. Mrs. Obama intended the garden to be an instructional space, emblematic of her concerns about food security, childhood obesity, and her Let’s Move initiative. I had a chance to meet Cris Comerford, White House chef, in the kitchen to confirm that the bountiful garden harvest is regularly used for State dinners and family dinners.
The White House gardener of today is a weather watcher, as the founding fathers and colonial gardeners were. A rain gauge was installed in the First Lady’s vegetable garden in March of this year, where it not only informs the schedule for watering the lawn but also monitors amounts and reports to the largest Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS). It collects precipitation amounts while also contributing to a broader citizen science effort documenting regional weather patterns and snow.
Just as we got the word of the impending press conference in the Rose Garden, we needed to clear the grounds. On our way back in, I noticed a silver plaque on a pillar and marveled at the affectionate handwritten note, thanking Jaqueline Kennedy from those who worked with her in the White House.
My memories galvanized forever in my heart, I’ve returned to the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden with a new appreciation for our connection to the broader national perspective of growing food as a democratic expression of individuality, health, wellness, self-reliance, and honor. This President’s Day, we can feel proud that our work at the Garden is part of this national movement.
Escape to a warmer climate and enjoy a mini-vacation from Chicago winters in the Greenhouses at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation, showed us some of the more unusual plants we will find flowering—or fruiting—in the Greenhouses in January.
Discover amazing aloes and euphorbias in the Arid Greenhouse:
We have 43 different species of aloes, including: dwala aloe (Aloe chabaudii), hidden foot aloe (Aloe cryptopoda), and bitter aloe (Aloe ferox). The long tubular flowers of aloes are adapted for pollination by sunbirds, the African equivalent of our hummingbirds. The sap of aloe vera is used widely in cosmetics and to treat burns.
Our 35 different species of euphorbias are also spectacular during this time period. Look for geographic forms and cultivars of Euphorbia milii as well as the spectacular Masai spurge (Euphorbia neococcinea). Did you know that poinsettias are also in the genus Euphorbia?
About to flower for only the second time in 30 years is turquoise puya (Puya alpestris), a bromeliad native to the high, dry deserts of Chile whose turquoise flowers are irresistible to hummingbirds.
The Semitropical Greenhouse is where you will find the following:
Paper flower—What appears to be the “flowers” of Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’ and ‘Singapore White’ are actually colorful bracts surrounding the small, white flowers.
Dwarf pomegranate (Punica granatum ‘Nana’)—Pomegranates are native to the Middle East and are part of the Biblical Plants collection in the Semitropical Greenhouse.
Calamondin orange (× Citrofortunella mitis)—This decorative, small orange is too bitter to be eaten.
Ponderosa lemon (Citrus × ponderosa)—Ponderosa lemons are the largest in the world.
Don’t miss these highlights in the Tropical Greenhouse:
“Alice” the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) with her magnificent orange fruiting spike. (The fruiting stage does not produce an odor.) The fruits will mature over the next two months to a deep red. In the wilds of Sumatra, ripe fruits are eaten by the rhinocerous hornbill, which spread the seeds.
The vining Vanilla planifolia var. variegata is a variegated form of the Central American orchid that produces vanilla beans
Cacao (Theobroma cacao)—the pods from this plant are used to make chocolate.
Nodding clerodendrum (Clerodendrum nutans) is among the first of this genus of winter-flowering shrubs and vines to be covered in showy flowers.
The elegant white Angraecum Memoria Mark Aldridge orchids with their long nectar tubes signal the start of orchid flowering season.
Please note: The Greenhouses and adjacent galleries will have limited access January 25 – February 7; from February 8 – 12, they will be closed in preparation for the Orchid Show, opening February 13, 2016. From February 13 – March 13, the Greenhouses will be open to Orchid Show ticketed visitors only.
Fall is family photo time, as the holidays near and thoughts turn to cards, gifts, and updates. The Chicago Botanic Garden makes a beautiful background!
No. 1: Crescent Garden Works great for: groups large and small. Chrysanthemums and Japanese maples in shades of burgundy and wine.
No. 2: English Oak Meadow Works great for: families. As our silhouette “family” shows, position the group on the path, then stand on the grassy area to take the shot. It’s a good vertical backdrop for larger groups.
No. 3: Farwell Landscape Garden Works great for: couples, kids. The “arm” of a copper beech creates a creative arch for framing.
No. 4: English Walled Garden Works great for: tight-knit clusters. The perfect blue, the perfect bench, always a perfect picture.
No. 5: Puryear Point Works great for: close-ups. Want the grand vista in the background? Head up to the hill between the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden and the Arch Bridge, where two Martin Puryear sculptures offer not only a nice place to relax, but also a grand vista of the Japanese islands.
No. 6: Arch Bridge Works great for: group selfies. Try this at sunset, as golden light illuminates the bridge.
No. 7: Lakeside Terrace Works great for: formal photos. Beautifully designed water-level terrace has seating, water, and a view of Evening Island.
No. 8: Circle Garden Works great for: short-distance walkers. Just a few steps outside the Regenstein Center, the Circle Garden’s beautifully designed beds and “secret garden” benches are ideal for grandparents and little ones.
No. 9: Outer Road Works great for: getting away from the crowd. On the outer road, between the Bernice E. Lavin Plant Evaluation Garden and Dixon Prairie, rows of trees make a nice background with a view to the grasses beyond.
No. 10: Evening Island Works great for: everyone. Evening Island has broad paths, drifting grasses, big sky, a grand lawn, and a handy wall for perching at the Nautilus.
Note: With the turn of the season, backgrounds are changing every day! Use these as guidelines for your photos, and let us know your favorite backgrounds!
We learned about some of the more unusual orchids featured in the Orchid Show (purchase tickets here) when we toured with Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation.
Boyce told us we have 183 taxa of orchids in our plant collections and 53 of those are straight species found in the wild. Of course, none of our orchids are wild-collected because that does damage to the species, so the orchids we acquire are propagated through tissue culture. We display the orchids that do best in our greenhouse growing conditions, and most of those do best in the Tropical Greenhouse.
Some of the orchids Boyce shows us in the video below are Vandas, which are native to the Philippines and other islands in Southeast Asia.
Boyce shared his love of Dendrobiums and revealed a goal to visit an area of the Himalaya Mountains where they cover the oak trees. But watch out: Boyce warns us of leeches in the area! (Don’t worry, we don’t have those in our greenhouses!)
Finally, we examined an interesting ground orchid, Phaius tankervilliae ‘Rabin’s Raven’, which is growing very well in our greenhouse conditions.