17 October 2008

Center Stage at Selby

By John R. Clark

An important goal we have at the GRC is increased visibility of gesneriads at Selby Gardens. The Tropical Plant Display House provides a wonderful venue to do so: inside, one can walk among many great specimens of tropical plants including various orchids, bromeliads, and gesneriads. There are currently several gesneriads to see in the Display House, both prominently featured as well as nestled into the naturalistic displays.

Upon entering the Display House, visitors can stroll along a winding path that takes them to a running waterfall and stream. The path is bordered by several gesneriads including species of Episcia, one Columnea sanguinea, and a specimen of Drymonia coriacea from Panama. If you look up and over the waterfall you will see a massive specimen of the same Drymonia; this individual, several meters long and branched many times, serves as a shade cover for plants below.

Also near the waterfall is a large specimen of  Rhynchoglossum azureum. This genus of gesneriad is unusual in many respects including the alternate (not opposite) leaves and strongly labiate, blue and white corollas. 
Rhinchoglossum is also unusual in it's distribution: although a member of the Old World subfamily Cyrtandriodeae, species of Rhynchoglossum are found in both the Old and New World tropics. This "disjunct" distribution may be indicative of a geologically recent introduction of the genus to tropical America from Asia.

As vistors wander past the waterfall they arrive at the Display House's "center stage." Hanging in all it's full glory is a great specimen of Drymonia pendula from Peru. This spectacular plant was originally collected by Bruce Holst on a Selby Gardens expedition. The plant's characteristic pendulous, red infloresences are unmistakable.

Selby Gardens' Display House offers visitors is a fantastic glimpse into the wonderful world of tropical plant diversity. Many of the plants featured in the Display House were collected by Selby Gardens botanists over the last 35 years. These valuable and often irreplaceable collections are skillfully maintained by the Gardens' horticulture staff, led by Mike Mclaughlin, Director of Horticulture at Selby Gardens 
and Angel Lara, Selby's Greenhouse Manager. Selby staff that most often work with gesneriads includes Gail McDaniel (Collections Horticulturalist) and Angela Weber (Display House Horticulturalist and newest staff member at Selby). We at the GRC are looking forward to working with Mike, Angel, Gail and Angela, as well as numerous dedicated volunteers, to continue making gesneriads visible at the Gardens and to promote awareness of this horticulturally and scientifically important family of plants.

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