You might think I've fallen off my rocker with that title, but it's true! There is an exotic rainforest in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="420" caption="Large Alocasia growing in the Exotic Rainforest. Notice the multiple inflorescences in the lower half of the picture."][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="420" caption="White Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia nicolai) reaching the upper limits of the atrium."][/caption]
The "rainforest" is contained in a 24' by 24' atrium that is built onto the back of the private home of Aroid collector Steve Lucas. Steve lived in Florida for a number of years, amassing a large collection of tropical plants which covered the grounds around his house. When he decided to move to Arkansas, he was determined to continue his hobby of growing tropical plants and take what he could with him. Others thought he was crazy, but he built a large greenhouse and turned it into a tropical paradise. It contains somewhere on the order of 300 species of Aroids, a lot of orchids, a blue and gold Macaw, tree frogs, a waterfall and a pond stocked with fish!
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="350" caption="Wizard, the blue and gold Macaw"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Pond in the rainforest atrium"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Tree frog perched on a leaf of the Bird of Paradise."][/caption]
Our trip to Steve's house was something I have been looking forward to for about 6 months now. Steve is an amateur botanist, though only "amateur" in that his professional training is in another subject. Steve collaborates on a regular basis with many of the leading researchers focused on the Aroid (Araceae) family, and has a working knowledge of Aroids greater than anyone I know. It was great to finally meet him after seeing lots of his pictures on his website and reading his passionate descriptions and discussions of Aroids. Steve took me through his collection, telling me about each plant - the botanical name, commonly mistaken identities, key features, locations where it is found in nature and the story of his particular plant.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Steve showing me his Philodendron mexicanum (of which he gave me a cutting)"][/caption]
Steve has some plants in his collection with particularly interesting stories. The plant pictured below was one of two plants used by Julius Boos and Drs. Tom Croat and Simon Mayo to write the scientific description of Philodendron xanadu. Julius Boos gave the plant to Steve as a gift. That's a pretty special plant!
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Philodendron xanadu plant used for formal description"][/caption]
Steve also has a Philodendron that is currently unnamed. He is carefully documenting all new growth and changes that he sees and communicating that information to one of the world's leading Aroid experts, Dr. Tom Croat of the Missouri Botanical Gardens. His hope is to have the plant produce an inflorescence this year and soon the plant will be determined to be a distinct species that had not yet been discovered.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Steve's prize plant, an unidentified (and potentially undocumented) Philodendron species."][/caption]
I have grown some Aroids for 3 or 4 years, but my collecting of Aroids really just began last Fall. Steve had loads of information to share with me and was kind enough to give me cuttings of several of his plants. Any plant that had enough stem to cut away he was willing to share.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Cercestis mirabilis. The big red knife is what Steve used to make cuttings of several of his plants for me."][/caption]
Because of his generosity, I have added six new Philodendrons, one Alocasia and one Tillandsia (from the Bromeliad family) to my collection: P. atabapoense, P. billietiae, P. erubescens, P. mayoi, P. mexicanum, P. 69686, A. gageana and T. albida.
Steve has installed an artificial log wrapped in growing medium and mounted with epiphytic plants - ferns, Bromeliads, Orchids and Aroids. As Steve says, in the rainforest, there are more plants growing on the trees than on the ground.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="480" caption="Artificial log mounted with various epiphytic plants - ferns, Orchids, Bromeliads and Aroids."][/caption]
There is a wealth of information on his website concerning Aroids, orchids and tropical greenhouses. He also has some wonderful pictures. Check it out! www.exoticrainforest.com