As I mentioned a while ago, there's a Botanical Center in the Quad Cities, the "Quad City Botanical Center." (Whimsical!) Somehow I'd never heard of it before the husband told me about it this past summer. And I know you would expect me to be bouncing off the walls until we were able to visit, but I actually forgot about it for several months, and only remembered I knew about the place when the husband raised the subject a couple weeks ago.
Botanical gardens are strange mixes of things I like and things I don't. On the one hand: plants. Plants are good. But then there's the part where you don't get to take home the ones you like. Even if you offer to pay for them. It took an enormous amount of focus and self-control, for example, not to leave the QCBC with a couple of Begonia leaves. Also, I'm fairly convinced that I will die, or at least become gravely ill, if I do not very soon get a variegated Callisia fragrans like the ones they have there.
Botanical centers are also weird places for me because I have so many plants, and have seen so many others, that my perspective is very warped about what counts as a cool plant. A gigantic, healthy Monstera deliciosa like this one --
leaves me kind of cold. You know, big whoop, I have three of those at home. (Not as big or as nice. Not by a long shot. But a plant I'm very familiar with, even so.) I'm not saying this is desirable. It's just, you know, over time, it takes weirder and rarer things to get me excited.
So I don't know whether my opinion on the place can, or even ought to, matter to anybody, but having said that, I was pleasantly surprised by the QCBC. Part of the good thing about botanical centers, as opposed to retail, is that retail is fairly homogenized. No matter where you go, you find more or less the same set of plants over and over, and ordering is constrained by what's available and what will sell (jade plants, peace lilies, Dracaena marginata, pothos, lucky bamboo) than what the person doing the ordering finds interesting. On the other hand, botanical gardens, like home gardens, can cater a little more specifically to an individual's tastes and whims, which I suggest is a Good Thing, even if you aren't the individual being catered to.
So my guess is that someone at the QCBC has a special fondness for shrimp plants (Pachystachys, Justicia), plants in the Maranta family (Calathea, Ctenanthe), and . . . well, I'm not sure what you'd call the third category. We'll get to it.
I saw at least three shrimp plants, but only two were identified.
I was familiar with P. lutea from the garden center where I used to work. We never had any that were that big, though, and I was never that impressed with them. I get the appeal more now.
The second shrimp plant was one I hadn't heard of before.
It might impress you more if it had been blooming as heavily as the P. lutea, but you get the idea from the close-up, I'm sure.
The picture of the third shrimp didn't turn out well; I was having to fight screwy afternoon light, shaky hands, and a lens that kept trying to fog up. So maybe next time on that one.
The Marantaceae plants were mostly Calatheas, with just one Ctenanthe I remember --
-- but they made up for it by including two Calatheas I'd never seen or heard of. The QCBC gets big, big points for C. majestica:
though they lose some points for making me look up the ID. (ID signs were sort of inconsistently placed, and often covered by the plants they were supposed to identify, which I suppose is the sort of problem botanical-garden-type places would have a lot.) There was also a large, sort of plain NOID, which didn't photograph well:
And another one I had to look up, which I think is Calathea 'Wilson['s?] Princep.'
Unfortunately, there weren't any very large specimens of 'Wilson Princep,' and the ones that did exist were in weird, hard-to-photograph locations underneath lots of other plants, so I'll have to try again on this photo, maybe.
The final group of plants I want to cover for this post are all commercial plants, things I mainly knew from ingredient lists. The QCBC had several of them. They weren't nearly as pretty as the shrimps and the Calatheas, but I at least have mental images for some of these plants that I didn't have before.
First up, annatto (Bixa orellana). I realized while there that I knew the word, but had no idea what annatto actually is, or is used for. (Probably you know already, but if you're like I was: it's both a spice and a yellow to orange food coloring, particularly common in cheese, says Wikipedia.) The plant itself wasn't terribly impressive, though with a lot of these plants, I have no idea whether the specimen at the QCBC was particularly large or healthy.
They also had vanilla (Vanilla planifolia), coffee (Coffea arabica), and sapodilla (Manilara zapota, which used to produce the base for chewing gum: gum is now, wikiposedly, mostly produced from artificial polymers), which I didn't take pictures of: I have a Coffea, the Vanilla wasn't that impressive and anyway I've seen them before, and for some reason it didn't occur to me to take a picture of the Manilara, though I remember thinking about it. Supposedly they had allspice (Pimenta dioica), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) and bay (Laurus nobilis) too, though I don't remember seeing any of them.
I did get a picture of cacao (chocolate; Theobroma cacao), though I was a little let down; I expected more:
And the papaya (Carica papaya) was respectable, I guess. Only one I've ever seen in person, anyway.
Finally, they had a couple smallish ylang-ylang (Cananga odorata) plants. Fairly nondescript,
though there was one flower. (I think it may have dropped off the stem already, and just happened to catch in part of the plant, but if it was a dead flower, it still looked pretty. I couldn't detect a smell, which supports the dead-flower theory.)
In the next couple posts, I'll take a look at the really big plants they had, some oddities which pleased me, and a few really impressive specimens of plants I already knew about. I'm tentatively planning Part 2 for 7 December, though that depends on me being able to write and sort pictures and etc. a bit more quickly than usual, so try not to be too disappointed with me if I make you wait a few days longer than that.