Nicholas Conservatory showcases 286 new plants; butterflies visit the gardens

From Summer 2014 Glasshouse Gazette newsletter

During eight weeks, 4,000 fluttering butterflies attracted 17,000 visitors to Nicholas Conservatory. The little insects acted as regional ambassadors,welcoming visitors from as far away as Alaska and France. Visitors saw each stage of the butterfly life cycle from egg to butterfly, and experienced getting up close and personal with more than 10 different varieties of butterflies in the butterfly house. Three hundred sixty-one visitors enjoyed a private Breakfast with the Butterflies experience. Nicholas Conservatory & Gardens thanks Granite City for helping create this unique experience by generously providing the delicious food for this event.

From time to time, new plants are added to the collection. NCG staff spend hours researching plants that will add interest, beauty, and fun to the collection. They also refer to the staff’s “wish list” of photos and notes taken from other gardens and conservatories visited previously. In mid-April, more than 286 new plants were added to the collection.

Two new varieties of banana plants can be found in the far northwest corner of the conservatory. One variety is Musa “1,000 Fingers” or the “1,000 Fingers Banana,” named for the unique column of fruit it produces. It produces small 1-1/2-inch seedless fruit, but the fruit stem can be up to 8 feet long, and covered with fruit the entire length.

The other variety is called Musa “Viente Cohol.” This banana originated in the Philippines, and can grow 8 to 12 feet high. It is one of the quickest fruiting bananas, and it bears 3- to 4-inch oddly shaped fruits, pointed at each end and rounded in the middle. The hands of fruit it produces can weigh up to 35 pounds.

Another new addition is Bambusa chungil or “Tropical Blue Bamboo.” It can be found in the northeast corner of the conservatory. This bamboo originated in China, and can reach a height of 30 feet. In traditional cultures, the fibers of this bamboo are used for fine weaving.

Two other newly-acquired plants are varieties of true gingers native to Southeast Asia. Zingeber spectibile, also known as “Beehive Ginger,” is named for the beehive-like appearance of the flower. It can be found by the pond on the far east side of the Conservatory. Under ideal circumstances, it can reach a height of 15 feet. While it is not the traditionally edible species of ginger, its roots can be used for seasoning as well as medicinal purposes, as it contains antimicrobial properties. It is reported to contain an enzyme that may be effective in treating colon cancer.

Zingeber zerumbet is the second new type of ginger. It can be found in the Conservatory just to the east of the Modjadji’s Palm. Known as “Shampoo Ginger,” or Awapuhi, the mature flower heads produce a milky fluid that can be used as a shampoo for hair! It is native to India and grows to about 6 to 8 feet tall. This plant also contains medicinal properties, including an extract that has been found to cause cell death in human liver cancer cells.

This is just a sampling of the new plants that have been added to NCG’s collection. You are invited to enjoy the added beauty and interest of the ever-changing and growing conservatory.

From the July 2-8, 2014, issue

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