Strongylodon macrobotrys (Fabaceae)
The geographical tropics, found in between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, is home to the most incredible array of animals, plants, and fungi found on the planet. The further you travel toward a pole from the earth’s equator, the less and less species diversity you’ll find in each habitat, until you end up with ice. This is one of the reasons that conservation efforts in the earth’s tropical regions are so important, and why the destruction of the earth’s tropical rainforests is perhaps the greatest threat that the planet has ever faced. The diversity of the tropics is not restricted to the number of species present…it includes the colors, textures, and patterns you’ll find in tropical plants and animals that are not found in temperate zones.
The jade vine, Strongylodon macrobotrys, is an example of such a plant. Much of the year the vine looks like many in the legume family (think beans and peas); their leaves consist often of three leaflets presented in a trident pattern, and the vine itself gently twines and rests in its host trees (or trellises, the best way to showcase cultivated vines) before “pushing up” again, the behavior typical of tropical climbers. It’s the type of vine you would walk right past in our conservatory and wonder why it’s there, if you’d think anything about it at all.
Right now though, it’s impossible to walk past our jade vine, once you see the brilliant turquoise blooms. It’s the kind of thing that you take pictures of to show your friends, because you can’t believe it’s real. It’s the kind of thing that, if you’ve never seen before, you just stare at for minutes on end. The flowers, which present themselves on pendant flower clusters which can reach several feet long (our vine is young, and the blooms probably hang down a foot or two), are true to their common name and a color that you almost never see in nature. Maybe in a few species of butterflies, or tropical fish, or coral, or birds-of-paradise, but definitely never outside of the tropics. They are brilliant turquoise with purple petioles, they are pollinated by bats, and they look as if from outer space. Our jade vine is blooming for the first time in our Tropical Conservatory. Don’t miss it!
Text by David Troxell