Wave Hill gardener Jen Cimino earned her BS in Wildlife Management and Natural Resources from the University of New Hampshire, where she got her first taste of horticulture. In the last five years, her responsibilities have included the Tropical House in the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory, the Pergola, the Kate French Terrace, The Rossbach Monocot Border and the Aquatic Garden.
The Tropical House is reminiscent of a collector’s greenhouse of rare, exotic, and tropical plants from all over the world. A variety of ferns, bromeliads, elephant ears, ant plants, vines and other tender plants surround you as you enter.
It serves not only as a display house, but also to produce and propagate extra tropical plants for outdoor seasonal areas such as the Pergola, Wave Hill Terrace and Paisley bed. During the summer months, many of the tropical plants get a “summer vacation” outdoors, either planted in the ground or in containers. In the fall, when temperatures drop, the tender plants are brought back inside the greenhouse or cuttings are taken to start new plants for the following seasons.
This week, the flowers of Strongylodon macrobotrys, a tropical woody vine, adorn the ceiling of the Tropical house like sparkling hanging jewels. Commonly known as the jade vine, emerald vine or turquoise jade vine, these pendant, grape-like, clustered racemes grow to 40 inches in length. See them in the foreground of the next shot, taken of the far end of the Tropical House. In fact, I have to tie them up to prevent visitors from walking straight into them. Each raceme holds 75 or more flowers, their luminous color rare among the flower world. Closer up, you begin to see more detail.Considered almost alien-like, many photographers and artists to try to capture its alluring, translucent color.
Endemic to the rainforests of the Philippine Islands, where it grows beside streams or in ravines, the vine can grow 30 to 50 feet in length. “Tayabak,” as it is known locally in the Philippines, is a member of the pea and bean family (Fabaceae). Due to increasing deforestation of the Philippines―a 1988 survey estimated only 20% of the forest remains―our “Strong-guy” (as it is fondly known here at Wave Hill) is considered an endangered species in the wild; worldwide efforts have been made to study the jade vine’s biology and pollination. Its floral morphology has evolved certain modifications to allow the flowers to be pollinated by bats that hang upside down on the flower to drink its nectar. Cultivation by seed is difficult but propagation by cuttings are successful, and vines begin to flower in their third year.