A sigh of relief, maybe

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Along the coast, we’ve been in a rain shadow for weeks. The interior and western suburbs have received downpours yet we parch on. So last Sunday’s rain gave new life to some struggling tropical plants, especially the calatheas, which were practically panting last week in my garden.

A calathea species refreshed
by rain.

Monday morning in the Fairchild Conservatory, the calatheas were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with delicate flowers tentatively poking their noses out for air. Calathea is a genus in the Marantaceae, or prayer plant family. The species grow in moist tropical rainforests, which explains why mine have been struggling outside in the drought even though they are in deep shade. When they thirst, they roll up their leaves, just as bromeliads roll their leaves inward when they need water. There are many species of calatheas and far fewer marantas, which have equally beautiful leaves and branching stems.

Costus with
an affinity.

A remarkably beautiful costus species is Costus aff. erythrophyllus, located next to the Conservatory pond, also seemed to enjoy its bath. It has dark leaves with red undersides and a cone-like inflorescence tinged with red. The “aff” means affinity, indicating that the costus in question appears to be related to the species erythrophyllus.

Helmet flower.

For weeks, I’ve been admiring the helmet flower or Costa Rican skullcap, Scutellaria costaricana. Its intense scarlet flowers are tipped in yellow. From Costa Rica and Panama, Scutellaria costaricana is sold as a houseplant in the north, but it blooms off and on throughout the year in the Conservatory.

Perhaps it will rain again soon.