Photo Show in the Butterfly Center

A couple of years ago we installed a small “Artists’ Corner” gallery in a corner of the lower level lobby in the Butterfly Center.  It opened with an exhibition of moth paintings from art students at SFASU, followed by a collection of monarch butterfly photos from a Houston naturelover, then drawings from 6-10th grade YES Prep students.  For the next few months the corner will showcase a fabulous display of nature photographs put together by Zac Stayton, horticulturist for the Butterfly Center.

Zac is a Houston native.  He received a degree in horticulture from Sam Houston State College in 2007, and subsequently worked at Newton Nurseries here in Houston.  Then, inspired by a trip to Costa Rica, he picked up stakes and moved to Hawaii, where he spent a year working for a bromeliad grower.  Luckily for us, he returned to Texas last year so we could hire him to join our team. 

Zac is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable plantophile, and is especially fond of epiphytes such as orchids, Nepenthes pitcher plants, and of course, bromeliads.  He is also an accomplished nature photographer, and has his own website where you can see his work:  BanyamImages.com.  The photos on display in the gallery include a series of photos taken in Hawaii and Costa Rica, featuring plants (of course) as well as insects, other animals, and scenics.  On the other side of the display wall are photos of plants and butterflies he has taken in the Butterfly Center since starting work here last January. 

Be sure to stop by to see Zac’s photos when you next visit the Butterfly Center.  Professionals and amateurs alike will be inspired to see the beauty of the Center seen through a photographer’s eye! 

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.

Beautiful, but Dangerous: the Fascinating Pitcher Plant

Nepenthes miranda at the CBC

I was watching Life on the Discovery Channel, and was happy to see that their special on plants talked quite a bit about carnivorous plants and how they have evolved. I find it fascinating that even in areas where plants are unable to get the nutrients necessary for life from the soil, some species have found a way to flourish by evolving specialized means of catching prey to supplement their nutritional needs.

One plant family in particular that has developed a specialized method of catching prey is the Nepenthes, also known as the tropical pitcher plant family. Shown in the picture on the right, they use their extravagantly colored pitchers, along with nectar glands on the underside of the pitcher lid, to attract insects, who then fall in and are quickly digested by the plant. Although insects make up the majority of the Nepenthes’ diet, they have also been known to digest reptiles and small mammals such as mice and rats.

Unopened Pitcher

Nepenthes are native to the Old World tropics, specifically the Malay Archipelago, and have their highest diversity of species in Borneo. They are typically liana-forming plants that climb in the trees and have a very shallow root system, making it hard for them to take up the nutrients they need to survive. So, over time the pitcher plant has developed what is called a pit-fall trap at the tip of each leaf.

The Trap is Set

It is believed that the characteristic pitcher started out as a simple curl at the tip of the leaf which collected dead leaves and insects, and over many generations has turned into the pitchers we are so fascinated with today. The pitchers form at the tip of each leaf, and once mature, the lid of the pitcher, or operculum, opens to begin catching it’s prey. The newly opened pitcher is already filled with a syrupy liquid, made by the plant, which is a combination of water, a biopolymer (to help trap and drown the insects) and digestive enzymes that are acidic enough to digest a large fly in a matter of a couple days. The pitcher walls are also coated with a slick wax, and sometimes a grooved pattern that makes it nearly impossible to escape.  One species, Nepenthes bicalcarata, has even developed fangs on the under side of the pitcher lid to snag any would be thieves trying to steal their daily catch.

If you would like to see some of these amazing plants up close and personal, come by and see the newly added Nepenthes display inside the Cockrell Buterfly Center rainforest. We have three varieties – Nepenthes miranda, Nepenthes ventrata and Nepenthes merrilliana, and if you’re really lucky you may catch these fascinating pitcher plants at feeding time!