Plants & Gardens Blog

Treasures in the Tropical Pavilion

The Tropical Pavilion is full of treasures, especially at this time of year. While the Steinhardt Conservatory often serves as a warm oasis in the winter months, now, in midsummer, is when the Tropical Pavilion is abundant with ripening fruits and flowers in full bloom. Textures, colors, and aromas of these rare plants fill the Conservatory, and it’s easy to feel instantly transported to a lush, aromatic world.

Gingers, arums, and birthwort wonders

Spiral Flag
Costus barbatus

A bright red cone-shaped bloom with yellow tubular flowers
Costus barbatus (spiral flag) in the Tropical Pavilion. Photo by Michael Stewart.

This ginger’s common name refers to the spiral arrangement of its foliage. Yellow, tubular flowers bloom between red, overlapping bracts. Spiral flag spreads with underground rhizomes and is native to Costa Rica, where it attracts hummingbirds.

Dancing Girl Ginger
Globba schomburgkii

A cluster of small yellow flowers blooms alongside large smooth leaves
Globba schomburgkii (dancing girl ginger) blooming in the Tropical Pavilion. Photo by Michael Stewart.

Dainty yellow flowers bloom on the terminal inflorescence of this dwarf ginger. Native to Vietnam, Thailand, India, and Myanmar, it spreads through rhizomes as well as bulbils.

Arrowroot
Tacca sp.

A gardener reaches out towards a plant with dark purple flowers
Gardener Katie Murphy presents the flowers of Tacca sp. (arrowroot) blooming in the Tropical Pavilion. Photo by Michael Stewart.

This arrowroot, sometimes called “bat flower,” boasts clusters of dark purple flowers with bract “wings” and long, whisker-like tendrils. Native to South China and Malaysia, this understory plant prefers a deeper shade. Arrowroot is a member of the Dioscoreaceae, or yam family.

Amorphophallus bulbifer

A small bulbil forms at the center of a stem with ovate green leaves
Amorphophallus bulbifer with its bubil in the Tropical Pavilion. Photo by Michael Stewart.

A member of the Araceae, or arum family, this bulbous, herbaceous plant is native to South Asia. Boasting glossy leaves and mottled stems, it forms small bulbils that fall to the ground. It is also a relative of the well-known corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum).

Giant Dutchman’s-Pipe
Aristolochia gigantea

A large maroon flower with white vein-like pattern and a bright green center
Aristolochia gigantea (giant dutchman’s-pipe) blooming in the Tropical Pavilion. This vigorous climber needs to be pruned back often. Photo by Michael Stewart.

This twining climber is native to the forests of Brazil. It boasts large burgundy flowers with veinlike patterns and a light green pouch. Its strong fragrance attracts flies, which pollinate the flowers. Giant dutchman’s-pipe is a member of the Aristochiaceae, or birthwort family.

Elephant-apples, jackfruit, and fruits of the tropics

Elephant-Apple
Dillenia indica

A shiny apple-shaped green fruit is held in a hand
Gardener Katie Murphy holds the fruit of a dropped Dillenia indica (elephant-apple) in the Tropical Pavilion. Photo by Michael Stewart.

This tree’s common name refers to its fruit being a main source of food for elephants. Striking, cream-colored flowers mature to glossy, round fruits with layers of smooth green “petals.” Elephant-apple is native to India and southern China.

Jackfruit
Artocarpus heterophyllus

A spiky oval brown fruit held in a hand
A small Artocarpus heterophyllus (jackfruit) in the Tropical Pavilion. Photo by Michael Stewart.

Artocarpus heterophyllus bears the largest fruit in the world. The recognizable, spiky jackfruit can weigh up to 80 pounds. Jackfruit is a member of the Moraceae, or fig family.

Papaya
Carica papaya

A cluster of green oval fruits grow at the top of a tree with large leaves.
Carica papaya (papaya) fruiting in the Tropical Pavilion. Photo by Michael Stewart.

Native to the rainforests of southern Mexico and Central America, a single papaya fruit can yield hundreds of seeds. Before maturing to fruit, clusters of waxy, cream-colored flowers adorn the tree, alongside large, palmately lobed leaves.

The oldest conservatory specimen

East Indian Sago-Palm
Cycas circinalis

Palm-shaped leaves form a fan shape at the top of a tree
Cycas circinalis (East Indian sago-palm) still standing tall the Tropical Pavilion. Photo by Michael Stewart.

Acquired by Brooklyn Botanic Garden in 1917—just a few years after the Garden officially opened—this sago-palm is the oldest specimen in the Conservatory. A member of the Cycadaceae, or cycad family, the sago-palm is a gymnosperm, and not a true palm.

Kathryn Tam is a former editor of Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s digital editorial content.

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Image, top of page: Michael Stewart