The Tropical Garden began with Madame Walska’s collection of orchid cacti (Epiphyllum), which were moved to this location in the late 1970s. A surprising number of tropical plants thrive in the mild climate of Santa Barbara due to our high number of frost-free days. As you walk, enjoy lushness of the colossal foliage that surrounds you, and feel the cooling shade provided by the canopy. You will wind around a rock-lined streambed, which carries runoff from rains and overflow water from the Japanese Garden pond.
Adaptations for Sunlight:
In tropical ecosystems, plants are strongly shaped by the need for sunlight in a competitive environment. Some plants sprout tall, ruling the sky economy at the expense of the competition. Others root themselves on a taller host plant, also known as growing epiphytically. Still yet, other plants vine their way to the top. As you walk, you will encounter a variety of examples of how the need for sun shapes species and organisms, alike. Watch your head as you pass under an incessant Eucalyptus branch bending around multiple obstacles in search of sunlight. You’ll know what we’re talking about when you see it!
Orchid Cacti (Epiphyllums):
The wild ancestors of these plants grow nestled in the pockets of large trees in South American rainforests, thriving on leaf mold and other organic waste. This strange genus often is spineless despite its classification as a cactus, and what may look like leaves are actually fleshy, water-filled stems. Their common name, Orchid Cacti, refers to their showy flowers, which bloom in May and June, and their habit of growing on a host plant, as do orchids.
Swiss Cheese Plant (Monstera deliciosa):
This monster of a vine is native to tropical rain forests in Mexico and Central America, where it grows 60 feet or more up into the canopies of trees, clinging to their trunks with roots all along its length. Its common name is derived from its characteristic splits and holes, which allow drenching rains to pass through and light to pass down to lower portions of the plant.
Abyssinian Banana (Ensete ventricosum):
This plant of tree-like proportions is among the largest of herbs in the world. Plants in the Banana family (Musaceae) have massive leaves that are arranged spirally around one another, giving the appearance of a trunk. The fruits of this particular species are inedible. However, its roots are an important food source for millions in Ethiopia, where it is grown in shared fields with sorghum and coffee.
Notable plants: Alpinia and Hedychium spp. = Ginger; Ensete ventricosum = Abyssinian Banana (no edible fruit; dies after flowering at about 7 yrs old); Sword ferns; Monstera deliciosa = breadfruit vine or Swiss cheese plant. Anthrium spp.