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We recently toured the Greenhouses with Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation, to see what’s in bloom and take in the different climates visitors can enjoy.

In the Arid Greenhouse, we saw a number of species of aloe from South Africa just coming into bloom as well as cacti and succulents.

In the Tropical Greenhouse, we were surrounded by palms and cycads while we admired the many orchids in bloom. Tankersley pointed out the acanthus cultivar (Aphelandra sinclairiana ‘Panama Queen’) native to Panama and Costa Rica, as one of his favorites. 

PHOTO: Panama Queen acanthus (Aphelandra sinclairiana 'Panama Queen')

The Semitropical Greenhouse was filled with blooms like pinkball dombeya (Dombeya wallichii). Native to East Africa and Madagascar, the genus is a highly sought-after ornamental in USDA Zones 9 and warmer.

PHOTO: Pinkball dombeya (Dombeya wallichii)

One of the rarest plants in our collections is Deppea splendens. Native to the mountains of western Mexico, this plant is extinct in the wild.

PHOTO: Deppea splendens

Visit our What’s in Bloom highlight page each week — twice a week during the summer bloom season — to learn more about the different plants in bloom. Then, come out to see them in person for their fragrance and the humidity of the warmer greenhouse climates.


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Boyce Tankersley, Director of Living Plant Documentation, takes us on a tour of what’s blooming in the display gardens on the first day of fall.

Sweeps of perennials on Evening Island, the cascading mums on the Visitor Center bridge, and masses of mums in the Crescent Garden, are found in the boundaries of our formal garden areas. Our show doesn’t end there, however — find gorgeous asters and sunflowers in the English Walled Garden, Japanese anemones and Endless Summer hydrangeas in the Waterfall Garden, mums mixed with later blooming annuals like zinnias and rudbeckia in the Sensory Garden, and an amazing array of colorful annuals in the Circle Garden.

We only visited six of the 25 display gardens, so come out to see them all this fall! Visit chicagobotanic.org/inbloom/ for more information on what’s in bloom.


Meet Katharine Hodgkin, a dwarf iris that is blooming now in the rock garden area of the Landscape Garden. The ethereal powder blue of this 4- to 8-inch-tall hybrid of Iris winogradowii and Iris histroides is beautifully etched with darker blue markings and shows a splash of lemon yellow on the “falls” — the three lower petals of the iris flower that may either hang down or flare out. Learn about this plant and more on our weekly bloom highlight page. http://www.chicagobotanic.org/inbloom/highlight.php

We stopped by the Production Greenhouses to see what they are growing for the upcoming spring garden displays. Tim Pollak, Outdoor Floriculturist, said we are growing 66,000 spring annuals and vegetables onsite this year for displays in the ground, in hanging baskets and containers.

Tim explained that the foxgloves you will see in the Circle Garden and Rose Garden were started from seed in October, grown at 42 degrees F for six weeks and brought into the greenhouse in January to grow with long days and warm temperatures to get them to bloom earlier than usual. The lupines you will see in the Heritage Garden and English Walled Garden are two years old and we plan to return them to the greenhouse for many years so they will continue to grow in size. The penstemon you will see in the Circle Garden have been growing for one year to get them to size, then overwintered in a nursery quonset and brought into the greenhouse in January to grow with long days and warm temps to get them to set flowers. Now, they are back in a quonset to slow their flowering until they are planted outside.

We are growing several species of echium (tower of jewels) for displays outside the Visitor Center as well as in the Heritage Garden and English Walled Garden. Most of the plants shown here were started from seed 18 months ago to get them to flower this spring. Echium fastuosum will grow 5-6 feet tall outside the Visitor Center, whereas Echium pininana will grow 12-14 feet tall in the Heritage Garden.

What are you most looking forward to seeing this spring?

View the video on YouTube here.

An interesting plant has come into bloom for the first time in the Arid Greenhouse. Turquoise puya (Puya alpestris) produces brilliant turquoise flowers accentuated by intensely orange anthers. The species is native to the high desert mountains of southern Chile, and obtains almost all of its water from the morning dews that briefly precipitate water before sunrise. The long, thin, arching leaves are protected by spines along the margin that discourage herbivores from taking a bite. Learn more about this and four other plants in this week’s Bloom Highlight. http://www.chicagobotanic.org/inbloom/highlight.php