The Chicago Botanic Garden has an enormous collection of over two million plants and exotic flowers in its 24 gardens covering almost 400 acres of land. Their plant varieties reach over 9,000 different kinds, making it the largest plant collection in the Midwest. Within those collections, The Chicago Botanic Garden has two greenhouses dedicated to tropical and semi-tropical plants and flowers.
The semi-tropical greenhouse is sort of a middle ground between their arid greenhouse with plants and flowers of the desert, and their tropical greenhouse, which is home to the tropical plants and flowers of the rainforests. In other words, the plants and flowers here are native of more warm temperate countries and continents.
There is quite a collection of various fancy-leafed begonias that include the cane-stemmed begonia, star begonia, and the Begonia odorata 'White Angel.' Cane-stemmed begonias, also sometimes called “angel wing” begonias have stems that resemble bamboo shoots with large flowers growing in cascading clusters of white, pink, red, or orange. Star begonias are distinctive by their pointed lobes that resemble stars, and are typically either white or pink. White Angel begonias are notable for their strong but pleasing fragrance, and are typically white in color.
Many conically-shaped flowers also populate this garden, ranging from shrimp plants, pink justicia, sweet almond verbena, to the more unique-looking red bottlebrush and blue witch’s hat. The Justicia brandegeeana 'Variegata' shrimp plants on display in this greenhouse are native of Central America and Mexico. The white flowers on this plant actually shoot out from red or pink bracts that curl under a bit, bearing resemblance to shrimp. Pink justicia, flowers, which are from Brazil and in the same family as the shrimp plant, are pinker in color and have much longer petals that curl under. Sweet almond verbena actually grow more in conic clusters and have an intensely sweet fragrance.
Red bottlebrush, from Australia, are very distinctive looking plants with a cylindrical shape and texture, as their name suggests, that resemble red traditional bottle brushes. Blue witch’s hats, native of South Africa, grow in dense conical clusters of tiny bright cobalt blue flowers. Again, as the name suggests, it resembles the shape of a witch hat colored blue.
Flowers more on traditionally aesthetically tropical and Polynesian, though some grow naturally in Central and South America as well, include the sky flower, gardenia, and the jungle geranium. Sky flowers are typically light-blue or lavender and grow in tight clusters. Gardenia, common in Africa, Australia, and the Pacific Islands, these white flowers are sort of the tropical aesthetic answer to the rose. Jungle geraniums, another smooth petal flower, are from Southeast Asia, brightly red colored, and have a growth pattern that resembles the sky flower.
Other flowers to be found in the semi-tropical greenhouse include the southern butterwort (Pinguicula primuliflora), Japanese pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira), the shooting star clerodendrum (Clerodendrum quadriloculare), bleeding glory bower (Clerodendrum xspeciosum), wild iris (Dietes grandiflora), paper flower (Bougainvillea x buttiana 'Barbara Karst'), yesterday, today & tomorrow (Brunfelsia pauciflora), Canary broom (Cytisis canariensis), Deppea splendens, gold shower thryallis (Galphimia glauca), Lavender Swirl lantana (Lantana montevidensis 'Monswee'), zonal geranium (Pelargonium hortorum 'Grossersorten'), and white candles (Whitfieldia elongata).
The tropical greenhouse is really where the more distinctive, sometimes unusual-looking flowers displayed here. Some of the more uncommonly seen types include the Nepenthes, African glory bower and bleeding glory bower, spider lily, Deppea splendens, climbing pandanus, fringed hibiscus, and the yellow walking iris. The Nepenthes, a pitcher plant suspended from a hanging basket, being perhaps the most distinctive of all. They’re native of southern Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Australia, and are carnivorous in nature, similar even visually to Venus flytraps, though with a much longer and deeper “trap” area.
This greenhouse also has some of the more typical exotic/tropical flowers most people have seen, though are not necessarily less distinctive-looking, like the chunkier flamingo flower (actually quite common in California and Florida), the spiky and almost wntirely foliage-looking vase plant, and hanging lobster claws, to the more delicate an conically clustered Alpinia zerumbet, lipstick vine (very similar looking to a honeysuckle vine, but with a bit more curve and flair), shell ginger, the 'Lomita Lady' Begonia (with also distinctive leaves that could look at home in a frisee salad), as well as the giant yellow and golden shrimp plants.
Other common, though more subdued tropical plants in this category include Mexican honeysuckle, cardinal guard, paper white sky flower, Panama rose, Palisota barteri, weeping blue ginger, Gloxinia sylvatica, spicy jatropha, Razzleberry Chinese fringe flower, fringe flower, and many varieties of orchids including the Spathoglottis plicata.