Tucked away to the west of the main entrance to the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens is a building I’ve passed many times yet never entered. The Rose Hills Foundation Conservatory is part of the Brody Botanical Center. How could I have missed it? A few days ago, I corrected that oversight.
As soon as I entered the lobby I came face to face with a docent ready to tell me all about the Corpse Flower! As with so many things, I didn’t realize this flower is a big deal at the Huntington, which has several of these plants. The first bloom happened twenty years ago. Since then, the public keeps coming every summer, each person hoping to be the lucky visitor that will be present during the first flowering.
This year’s flower is just about ready to bloom. The green leaves unfurl to reveal a deep purple blossom.
Along with the flower comes the stench, which is something similar to rotting flesh. The blossom doesn’t last long, maybe a couple of days, which explains why people try so hard to time their visit to correspond with the blooming. As for me, I may keep being early and avoid the smell.
The conservatory has three sections: the rain forest under the dome, the cloud forest in one wing, and the plant lab in the other. I tackled the rain forest first, and it’s a good thing I did. After facing the hot desert air outdoors, I wasn’t ready for the hot, humid rain forest. A few quick minutes in it and I was as soggy as the plants! It’s best to get that ordeal quickly behind one.
The plants were dripping, and so was I. I wandered the area as rapidly as possible and then sought a cooler clime.
What a joy to leave the soggy forest for the cooler cloud forest! Okay, let’s not get excited; it was a drop of a few degrees. Cloud forests are damp and misty. The plants grow everywhere, and that means not just in the soil. They get water from the air, from the clouds. There were several flowering plants in the cloud forest.
I was struck by the above flower. I think its petals have finished blooming, but the pistil and stamen are still there. And I like the complementary colors of yellow and purple. There’s still beauty in this little flower.
I also found carnivorous plants near the Cloud Forest. Technically, they have their own area, the Carnivorous Plant Bog. I saw several examples of the pitcher plant, but rather like this little butterwort.
There’s already an insect on one of the leaves. He may be lunch! The leaves secrete enzymes that slowly digest the plant’s prey.
Conservatory’s Hands-on Lab
I crossed back under the dome to explore the opposite wing, the Plant Lab. It is a terrific place for kids of all ages. The lab is a treat for the senses as one can smell and touch all the specimens.
I tried one of the exhibits in the photo above. I cranked the handle to raise the “helicopter” seed pods and then watched them twirl to the bottom of the cylinder. Each seed has a single wing that makes them spin in the breeze.
To see a few more images from my adventure at the conservatory, please click here.