Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Dazzling Gloriosa superba.

Hanging in Suzanne Kores’ workspace in the Davis House is a giant reproduction of a 1999 stamp that depicts flowers of a bird of paradise, royal poinciana, hibiscus and gloriosa lily. Kores, who is the garden’s director of program development, has taken the “stamp” with her from office to office. Outside the Davis House, a gloriosa lily is climbing a palm tree and dangling upside down flowers so beautiful they stop you in your tracks. Wavy petals in Venetian red and canary yellow make this a shooting star of a flower, entering Earth’s orbit with fiery dazzle.

A bizarre member of the lily family, this bulb has evolved to develop tendrils at the ends of its leaves in order to climb. From tropical Africa, Gloriosa superba deserves its name. Its colors perhaps warn that all

Hibiscus schizopetalus.

parts of the plant are poisonous and produce colchicine, which is a substance that plant breeders use to double the number of chromosomes in desirable plants, such as orchids.

In the hibiscus section of the garden is another upside down flower: Hibiscus schizopetalus, the fringed hibiscus. This time, the petals have taken the art of Chinese paper cutting to the top. As intricate as an elaborate “window flower” cutout, this hibiscus begs to be painted. It grows in full sun, and like other hibiscus, will drop its buds if conditions fluctuate suddenly: if temperatures go up and down, if soil moisture changes, and if humidity drops. It also likes moderate moisture. But for the sheer art of it, the gardener’s efforts are rewarded.