Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Zone 9

This week I have been launched like a t-shirt & short clad rocket into the ‘Great Glasshouses’, having been posted to the Tropical Nursery with responsibility for ‘Zone 9, woody tropical’. The Tropical Nursery contains 21 separate zones, all independently controlled and heated to accommodate the exotic collections contained within, with species from the four corners of the globe being nurtured here!

Although the largest glasshouse at Kew this area only opens to the public once a year, with us mostly behind the scenes ferretting away to maintain the collections, and supply plants when needed to the Palm House, Temperate House and other public display houses. My zone harbours some delightful specimens, including a collection of Passiflora species and hybrids, large collections from the island of Mauritius, three benches of assorted tropical climbers and a healthy gang of small trees. These coves will not settle for any less than around 22°C and 90-100% humidity, which hopefully explains this issue of my extremely casual and informal attire! The plants here are dashed interesting and rather rare, with a number of species, particularly amongst the Mauritius collection, either extinct in the wild or down to one or two remaining plants. This is quite a change of focus compared to the work at Hidcote, with plants being grown to conserve the species and have them readily available for propagation, instead of cultivation for beautiful flowers or long season of interest. Much of the Mauritius collection was brought back as seeds and cuttings from expeditions to the island by my day-to-day Boss Man, Carlos Magdalena. This egg has been described by the BBC as ‘the plant messiah’ on account of his propagating several rare species previously at risk of extinction. Although I am so far unfortunately unable to report any miracles, I can tell you he is inspiringly enthusiastic about plants and propagation, and basically seems to have the ardent patience and extensive knowledge base to fathom out ways of propagating these rare plants which have never been seen before in cultivation.

I will be featuring some more of the action from the Tropical Nursery before my placement ends, but here is an initial introduction to some of the plants residing here!

The tropical mayhem of Zone 9!

One of the many assorted climbers here, the large flowered Stictocardia beraviensis

Caesalpinia pulcherrima is a glorious legume with these striking whirls of flower

Several water tanks house lotus and water lily specimens; and this dainty chap is the world’s smallest water lily, Nymphaea thermarum

Some days with the light streaming in it’s easy to imagine being lost in a jungle!

Passiflora xiikzodz is a delicate little egg, and forms one small part of the huge passion flower collection

Several of the plants in the zone are harvested by humans, with the cotton wool plant Gossypium herbaceum utilised across Africa and Asia

Antigonon leptopus is an amazing climber known as the coral vine. It can be a weed in places like Florida, but in less hardy climes I suspect it may have the vigour to be used as an annual like Cobaea scandens, etc.

Hibiscus liliflorus; a combination of Latin words to set the old pulse racing! This beautiful gem is now extinct in the wild, but grown in gardens all over Mauritius

This drooping glory comes from India and is Thunbergia mysorensis

Hibiscus species are also well represented in the collection, with H. arnottianus seen here from Hawaii

Tropical insects and animals are unfortunately lacking in Zone 9, but we do get the odd cockroach mooching about the place!

Carlos and myself in the full panoply prepared for spraying!


Martin Neill said...

Bertie, your photos are stunning. I particularly like the tiny water lily shot, with the leaves surrounding the flower, it's a competition winner I reckon. You are amongst plants I've never even heard of - I sure am going to learn from your blog over the next few years!

Doc said...

Amazing plants.

Anonymous said...

It's great to have you back blogging. I missed your huour and your insights and I hope we will still be able to see your old blog pages about butterflies etc as they educate people

Bertie Bainbridge said...

Greetings all! Martin, many thanks.