It is understandable that Spanish priests used the passion flower (Passiflora) as a symbol of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in trying to convert the native Indians of South America to Christianity. The flower's petals and sepals represented the apostles, the corona filaments reflected the crown of thorns, and the anthers were the sacred wounds. Tropical flowers speak a language all their own, each telling its individual story, and collectively creating a fascinating garden.
Flaming beauty (Carphalea kirondron) is native to Madagascar. It is a tropical evergreen bush that flowers all year-round. What is unique about the flaming beauty is that its long-stemmed white flowers protrude at random among clusters of red calyx lobes to create a very striking and colorful addition to any garden landscape. The Carphalea kirondron is a member of the Rubiaceae family.
The more common name of Epiphyllum oxypetalum is night blooming cereus or dutchman's pipe cactus, which is native to South America. At some point in its history, this prominent, white orchid cactus with long, scalloped leaves, arrived in Sri Lanka where a charming legend grew around it. According to the legend, when this fragrant flower blooms in the night, this is the time when the Celestial Nagas descend to earth to carry the flower away and offer it up to Buddha on the holy mountain called Sri Pada in central Sri Lanka. The 7,000-foot-high mountain, also known as Adam's Peak, is a place of pilgrimage for Sinhala Buddhists.
Pata de vaca (Bauhinia forficate) alludes to the shape of the leaves of this plant, which look like the hoof of a cow. With its drooping white flowers, pata de vaca is native to the rain forests and tropical areas of Brazil, Peru, east Paraguay and northeast Argentina. In Brazil, it is famous as a herbal medicine. The hoof-shaped leaves produce medication to balance blood sugar levels in diabetics, diuretics for kidney and urinary disorders and to counter high cholesterol.
The Hawaiian Islands are famous for their exquisite tropical flowers. The state flower of Hawaii is the yellow hibiscus (Hibiscus brackenridgei), which the state adopted officially as its flower in 1988. In addition to the state flower, each island has its own official flower. Just one of the island flowers is not indigenous to Hawaii. It is the pink cottage rose or pink lokelani (Rosea damascena) that represents Maui. This lovely flower is also called the rose of heaven.
A rare, endangered flower called the ghost orchid (Dendrophylax lindenii) made the news when two people searching for owls spotted it growing high above the ground in a cypress tree in the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Florida. The orchid was the subject of a nonfiction book titled "The Orchid Thief."