I’m generally not a big-leaved tropicals person. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s more that I like to see them rather than grow them.
As a city dweller, I’ve never had much garden space available to me. And, well, big-leaved plants are terribly GIGANTIC. They are also tropical, which means they need a warm and humid place to overwinter indoors. My living spaces are small and dry. As a result, I’ve simply opted out of growing these plants. I oooh and awe at them while visiting greenhouses or tropical locals, but I’ve always managed to keep a mental distance from them. These are plants for looking and looking only.
And then I went to Thailand.
A lush balcony garden in Bangkok.
From the glittery, tiled temples to the lush, statuesque plants, everything in Thailand is BIG and FABULOUS. Even in a congested metropolis like Bangkok, the Thai people still manage to find the space to go big. Now there is no excuse left and I want to go big, too.
It must have been the influence of that month in the Caribbean where they are as big as trees, because I haven’t craved a holiday poinsettia in ages. The last time I remember growing one was the year I published a piece on restoring a dormant poinsettia to its original glory. That must have been ten years ago now.
What surprised me more than my own rekindled interest was that Davin was into it, too. We chose and bought this one together, an impulse buy at the Loblaw when we went in to get some money from the machine for subway tokens. The path to the ATM takes you right through the garden section. They know how to get me.
We loved that this one seemed to be a mutt of every variety jammed into one plant. It’s got a bit of the deep mahogany type, a few white and pink blush leaves, and lots of speckles. Later, I found myself eyeing a dwarf variety for sale in a corner shop a little too closely.
Perhaps I will keep this one and bring it out of dormancy for next year. Perhaps not. When it comes to plants, I don’t know who I am or what I will do anymore. The Year of the Id is sliding into a second.
Like caladium, anthurium are a tropical I never could get into. I have a penchant for freakish, alien plants, but there is something about their waxy, fake phalus-like appearance that bugs me. They just seem so Hollywood — the plastic surgery disasters of the plant world.
Last year’s trip to Dominica changed that. There, for the first time, I saw anthurium growing in their natural habitat. It turns out they live in the jungle, alongside streams where it is very humid and the soil is moist. In that environment they don’t look fake at all.
There, surrounded by a lush green backdrop, where everything is waxy and shiny, they blend right in and it seems perfectly normal to come upon a flower that looks like one of Madonna’s performance outfits, or that neon t-shirt I wore back in 1985.
Considering the wide breadth of plant photos I took through our month in the Caribbean, it comes as a surprise how often I keep reaching for images of ginger family plants to show here. Perhaps it is because there are just so many more than I ever imagined, or perhaps because the remainder of he winter has been gray and these flowers are bold and BRIGHT. Whatever the reason, here’s another one.
The spiral growth pattern of this one is unique and I believe we saw a variegated version of it as well, but try as I might, I was unable to find a photo in my files. Meanwhile, I only have about 30 more rolls of film to develop (about 360 images) from that trip alone! There is also a bag of film with rolls dating back to last August.
I suppose it could be in there somewhere.
This is a tricky one as I haven’t yet properly identified it. Perhaps you can help? I took this picture at Papillote Gardens in Dominica. The tag read, “amomum cardamomum”, but both are actually words for cardamom and together do not make a botanical name. It was definitely a type of cardamom or at the very least, something in the ginger family. It turns out that there are a lot more ginger family plants than I ever imagined so my claim to knowledge in this area is forever humbled.
My best guess is that this is some kind of black cardamom (Amomum subulatum) or Amomum subulatum fresh off the plant. I have searched high and low but have been unable to find a photo of the plant with fresh pods to confirm its identification. My other thought is that it could be some kind of related, inferior (or false) cardamom that I’ve never heard of.
And so I put it out to you. What do you think it is?
As Davin was holding the open pod, the purple colour staining his skin (which I might add he picked and opened without encouragement from me) he kept saying, “I hope this isn’t poisonous.” I suggested that if there was any doubt, he should wash his hand immediately and refrain from sticking it in his mouth anytime soon. And then, you know, hope that skin contact doesn’t act as a good delivery system for this particular poison. Two months later he is still alive so apparently it wasn’t.
The life of a botanical hand model is wrought with peril.
UPDATE: Polly Pattullo of Papillote Press (who also happens to live nearby to the garden where this photo was taken) has updated me to say that the plant was identified as Renealmia alpinia, a common member of the Ginger Family (Zingiberaceae). Apparently, the leaves are used for cooking fish, and she has been pounding the seeds and roasting for use in cooking.