What’s Blooming Now in the Butterfly Center?

Lois’ flower has died back, but the Cockrell Butterfly Center still has many amazing flowers blooming right now!

Although not all as rare as the corpse flower, the rainforest in the butterfly center is made up of hundreds of hard-to-find tropical plant species, most of which (but not all) come from Central and South America. We have many different varieties of orchids and bromeliads that bloom at different times of the year, so there is always something new to see at the Cockrell Butterfly Center!

What’s Blooming Now?

Bromeliad – Billbergia nutans
Bromeliads are a very diverse family of plants. We currently have nine different genera, and many different species, of bromeliads growing in the butterfly center. Most of them are epiphytes but we do have a few terrestrial genera including, everyone’s favorite, Ananus comosum, aka pineapple.

Bromeliad - Billbergia nutans [Cockrell Butterfly Center]
Billbergia nutans

Orchids
The Orchid family is the second largest family of flowering plants, consisting of around 25,000 species. Different orchids bloom at different time through out the year, so no matter what season you are sure to see at least a couple species of orchids in bloom at the Cockrell Butterfly Center. Also, keep an eye out for our vanilla orchid, not in bloom right now, but still a fascinating vine.

Cattleya [Cockrell Butterfly Center]
Cattleya
Cymbidium [Cockrell Butterfly Center]
Cymbidium
Oncidium [Cockrell Butterfly Center]
Oncidium
Phalaenopsis [Cockrell Butterfly Center]
Phalaenopsis

Ginger
The butterfly center has many different species of ginger, most of which stay in bloom all year round. However, the Torch Ginger, Etlingera elatior, only occasionally flowers, and right now it is putting up three flower spikes, the tallest is over SIX FEET tall.

Torch Ginger Flower [Cockrell Butterfly Center]
Etlingera elatior

Other Amazing Flowers

Medinilla
Medinilla is an epiphyte, meaning it attaches itself to trees or branches in the wild. From afar the flowers look like clusters of tiny pink grapes.

Medinilla [Cockrell Butterfly Center]
Medinilla
Medinilla [Cockrell Butterfly Center]
Medinilla

Nepenthes
Although not a flower, Nepenthes or Pitcher Plants are definitely a sight to behold. We currently have four species of pitcher plants, each with a slightly different color, size, and shape.

Nepenthes are carnivorous plants that eat mostly small insects such as ants and flies. For more information about pitcher plants refer to my previous blog: Beautiful, but Dangerous: the Fascinating Pitcher Plant.

Nepenthes [Cockrell Butterfly Center]
Nepenthes

Warszewiczia coccinea
And we can’t forget about the butterflies favorite tree, Warszewiczia coccinea or Pride of Trinidad. This tree remains in bloom almost all year at the butterfly center, but it is putting on a fresh set of flowers right now, meaning the color is at its most vibrant. This tree is the butterflies’ favorite because each inflorescence actually contains hundreds of small yellow flower, each containing nectar for them.

Warszewiczia coccinea [Cockrell Butterfly Center]
Warszewiczia coccinea

And the list goes on! These are just a few of the amazing plants we have blooming in the Cockrell Butterfly Center right now. So come on down to HMNS and get a taste of a South American rainforest here in your own back yard.

Interested in learning more about plants? Read more of Zac’s posts and make sure to check out our live webcam feed tomorrow as Zac replants Lois, the famous corpse flower.

Spicy Cocktails: Anvil’s Ginger Beer [Big Bite Nite]

What makes a good scientist? Attention to detail.

habanero!
Click here for more behind-
the-scenes photos from our
video shoot at Anvil.

What makes a good cocktail? Attention to detail.

The fine folks at Anvil have attention to detail down. We went behind the scenes with Kevin, one of the co-owners, to capture those details, in the art and the chemistry that goes into making Anvil’s signature Ginger Beer, which they’ll be sharing with visitors at Big Bite Nite on April 29! (Tickets are going fast – get yours here.)

Despite its more familiar, sweet incarnations in ginger bread or gingerbread men – ginger itself is actually quite spicy. And the process of getting juice from a ginger root was both strange (when was the last time you juiced a root?) and fascinating.

Kevin kicked it up a notch by adding habanero peppers (which, you might remember from an earlier video, can just about burn your lips off if you’re not careful) just before final splash (or fizz) of CO2.

Even just a quarter of one habanero pepper was enough to make this quite a spicy spirit. It was a tad too much for me – but that’s just me. You can test your tastebuds on April 29, when Anvil samples it’s Ginger Beer-based cocktail at Big Bite Nite!

Check out the other videos in our Big Bite Nite series!
Spicy Science: The Evolution of Plants

Our resident botanist explores just what makes some plants so spicy!
Fire & Ice: Rev. Butter Turns Up the Heat

Preview Rev. Butter’s hot ice sculpting style – and check it out live before the doors open at Big Bite Nite on April 29!

Spicy Science: Plant Evolution [Big Bite Nite]

This year, Big Bite Nite is turning up the heat! Many of our participating restaurants are spicing things up with dishes served diablo, and so we’ve been thinking a lot about spice.

Like – where does spice come from?

Radishes are spicy?
You may be surprised at the range
of plants that have spice in them!

Essentially – it comes from plants. Spice is all natural! And Smithsonian Magazine recently published a fascinating article about the evolution of spice in plant populations. To quote the article:

“The heat-generating compound in chilies, capsaicin, has long been known to affect taste buds, nerve cells and nasal membranes (it puts the sting in pepper spray). But its function in wild chili plants has been mysterious.”

In other words, despite the fact that humans enjoy  super-spicy salsa, fiery Indian vindaloo or eye-watering wasabi – and that we’ve been “spicing up…food with chilies for at least 8,000 years” – there doesn’t seem to be an immediately obvious reason for plants to develop this characteristic.

So, as often happens when science meets an unanswered question, studies were undertaken. And as it turns out: “the more capsaicin, the less fungal infection.” And since fungus thrives in humid environments,  “the moister the climate, the spicier the chilies.” This is why hot chilies typically come from hot regions of the world.

Fascinating! And – we wanted to know more. So, we met up with Nancy, a botanist in addition to being our curator of entomology, Director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center, and blogger for BEYONDbones to explore the science behind the spice. Check it out in the video below!

Can’t see the movie? Click here to view it.

In the meantime, here are some other fascinating tidbits from the article:

  • Chilies aren’t really hot – capsaicin stimulates neural receptors in your tongue and skin that detect rising temperatures.
  • We really like spice – and chilies spread around the world with great speed. “Within 50 years of Columbus’ voyages, Pernambuco chilies were being cultivated in India, Japan and China. Chilies made it to the American Colonies with the English in 1621.”
  • Traces of chilies have been found “on ancient milling stones and cooking pots from the Bahamas to southern Peru.”

Check out the full Smithsonian article here. And, check out what’s happening for Big Bite Nite on April 29 – and enter to win tickets to the event, as well as check out the other videos in our spicy video series – at the event web site.