The dense jungles of tropical rain forests are home to numerous exotic flowers, some of which grow worldwide today, while others remain undiscovered. Those we know about have diverse and spectacular appearances and characteristics. Some are named for the brave adventurers who first discovered them in faraway places and introduced them to the rest of the world.
The red hot poker or kniphofia (Kniphofia uvaria) is an example of how colors play a descriptive role in the names of jungle plants and flowers. This beautiful flower takes its botanical and one of its common names from Johann Hieronymus Kniphof (1704 to 1763), a Dutch botanist. The plant stem exhibits hundreds of red to orange tubular florets that cover most of its 2-to 3-foot height. The kniphofia is native to Africa. Protea pink ice, is a cross between Protea compacta and Protea susannae, with lovely, silvery-pink blooms from fall to winter. Pink ice is native to South Africa. The golden goddess or golden trumpet (Tabebuia chrysantha) has masses of bright yellow flowers It is native to South America.
The gongora orchid (Gongora quinquenervis) is native to tropical rain forest America. In form it looks like a small dragon flying through the air. The gongora orchid’s massed yellow flowers have dark red spots and curved petals, and usually bloom in the fall and winter. This orchid is an epiphyte, which is the term for a flower that grows on another plant for support. Humid growing conditions best suit the gongora orchid.
White to pink bell-like flowers bloom only once every five to 10 years on the kapok tree (Ceiba petandra), after it loses all its leaves annually. Unlike most other flowers, the flowers of the kapok tree have an unpleasant odor, except to bats. The flowers open after sunset, and the bats converge during the night to feast on the nectar. In the early morning, the bees arrive for any leftovers. The kapok tree is indigenous to Central and South America and west Africa.
The jacaranda mimosaefolia is better known as the green ebony or the emerald ebony tree, a native of Brazil. Today though, this tree grows in many other parts of the world beyond South America. Its name in Malay is tambul merak, and in Hindi it is called jungli badam. It also thrives in the Caribbean and in Egypt, where its wood is used in the manufacture of pianos.
Common to all varieties of jaracaranda are its beautiful, trumpet-shaped lavender blue flowers, usually blooming between March and May.
Bird of Paradise
The giant bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai) is native to South Africa. It is a product of the rain forest, like other members of the Strelitziaceae family, including the more famous Strelitzia reginae, named for Queen Charlotte of England (duchess of the German principality of Mecklenburg-Strelitz). As its name suggests, the blue petals and orange sepals of the bird of paradise look like the crest of a bird’s head.