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IMA’s Greenhouse: Home to hidden beauties

Spending the week in the Madeline F. Elder Greenhouse has definitely been exciting! There are so many different plants here and, within just four days, I was introduced to so many more than I usually am in a week! Getting to work with such a variety is a great experience and, just looking around, I could tell there was quite a collection. My favorite would have to be the section set aside for the orchid collection. These orchids are currently found in the greenhouse, but are placed around the Lilly House during certain times of the year.

There are a handful of orchids for sale in another room, but most of the orchids are just there for guests to admire. They have quite a range! And I could not even find many tags for them to know exactly what kinds are all present, but I took pictures of some of my favorites. Two common groups of orchids include the Phalaenopsis orchids and the Oncidium orchids.

070314_greenhouse_09Besides all of the orchids, one definitely cannot pass up looking at the succulents and houseplants! This alone kept me occupied on breaks as I kept discovering more and more unique plants. Just today, I discovered the Pink Pineapple (Ananas lucidus). It has a fruit on it for the first time during its 12 years at the greenhouse. It takes multiple years before it is ready to fruit and, I was told, rarely produces pups. (‘Pups’ is a term used for some of the baby plants, or offshoots, that the mother plant produces.) But watch out, do not eat the fruit of this plant as it does not have much juice or edible flesh. And the taste is quite bland.

The Pink Pineapple is native to northern South America and is hardy to Zones 10-15. This means it does not do well outside here but can be used as a houseplant. The plant has slender, red-bronze leaves that will eventually allow the plant to reach a mature height and width of 2 to 3 feet. It likes well-drained loams or sandy soils that are either acidic or neutral. The leaves will turn green if the plant does not receive partial to full sun. Purple-white flowers on a stalk will give way to the pink fruits. These stalks occur in the rosettes of the leaves, which will then die after it fruits. The plant is mainly used here in containers indoors, but can be used in tropical borders and containers outside where it is warm enough.

Besides the orchids and the Pink Pineapple, try to spot these other plants at the greenhouse!!

And last of all, do not forget to take a look around at the bonsai, the gift shop within the greenhouse, and our selection of annuals and perennials in addition to our orchids, succulents, and houseplants.

 

Fragrant Sumac

Photo by Audra Franz Fragrant sumac along the stairs at the Park of the Laments in the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres.

Photo by Audra Franz
Fragrant sumac along the stairs at the Park of the Laments in the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres.

Fragrant sumac serves as a good groundcover, spreading both outwards and upwards, and providing great fall color to any area. This groundcover can also grow into a small shrub, spreading to 6 to 10 feet in width and 2 to 6 feet in height. This can happen in a variety of places as the plant likes a variety of light; just do not place it in a full shade location. It will also do well in a variety of soils although it prefers well-drained soils. The best soil type for great fall color is dry and poor (sandy and/or rocky). Fragrant Sumac is hardy to Zone 3 and is native to the eastern United States as well as some of the southern states. All of these characteristics make Rhus aromatica a great plant for naturalized areas, informal hedges, stabilizing embankments, and poor soil sites.

Image Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Image Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac) consists of leaves of three that are smaller than those of poison ivy. The two plants are closely related yet the fragrant sumac is not poisonous. The trifoliate leaves are up to 3 inches in length and are toothed. Fall color consists of reds, purples, and oranges. Regardless of whether you get to enjoy the fall color, crush the leaves and/or stems to release the strong spicy scent of the plant, giving it its name, fragrant sumac. Galls can be spotted on the leaves sometimes, but there is usually no major concern for insects or pests to the fragrant sumac.

Flowers usually occur in March and April, with there being both male and female flowers. The male catkins are one inch long and begin to form in late summer, lasting at least into winter. (They can be seen in the photo below, alongside the berries). The female flowers consist of the typical small flower buds. Both the male and female flowers can be found on the same plant (monoecious) or be on different plants (dioecious). Hairy red drupes (berries) will begin to show in late summer, forming in clusters. Wildlife is attracted to these drupes. Also, a tea has been made from these fruits, which some say tastes like lemonade.

Image Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Image Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Besides tea, the plant has been used by humans for centuries. At one point, the root was used in a medicine to help treat diarrhea, as well as the bark and drupes in medicinal items. Poultices were created from both the bark and the leaves. Tanning of leather involved tannin from the leaves and bark. This tannin was also used for dyes.

Next time you visit the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, be sure to make a stop at the Park of the Laments to see just how well the Rhus aromatica is filling in the space. Crush the leaves to catch its strong aromatic scent. And notice how this species of plant is in a tough spot. There really is no shade for it and it is on a sloping incline. Also, it is surrounded by gabion baskets, meaning less area for roots to spread as the soil is in a contained area. Water will drain easily from the rocks and will not be held in except what the soil catches, making for a well-drained site.

Photo by Audra Franz.

Photo by Audra Franz.

 

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