Tropical plants in Rhode Island, part 1

by Caroline Brown

I’ve spent a few days this summer at Roger Williams Park Botanical Center in Providence–once as a visitor and two times as a trainee for a Master Gardener-staffed information booth volunteer project. The Botanical Center is the centerpiece of an outdoor botanical garden that is currently in development, but the Center itself is completed and opened to the public in March. It is the largest public indoor display garden in New England.

The horticultural focus of the Center is tropical, desert, and Mediterranean plants. Kind of a cruel joke in a way, especially in the middle of winter, but I guess the designer figured that a trip to the BC would be a welcome respite from a snow-dumping nor’easter in say, February.

I’m not usually impressed by tropical plants, unless they’re a natural part of the environment that I happen to be in. Here in New England, I’m personally happy to see a shadbush or a winterberry. Regardless, the BC a pretty remarkable place (only $3.00 admission, a steal!). Here are some photos of a couple of my favorite plants there. The top photo shows a plumeria blossom. I think it’s Plumeria alba. Another view of it is to the right, and it gives you a view of the Mediterranean room of the Botanical Center.

Also known as frangipani, plumeria are trees or shrubs that are related to the oleander family. Like oleander, it’s poisonous. Plumeria have a sweet, heavy, buttery smell. They remind me of living in California.

P. alba is one of 7 or 8 varieties of the genus that is native to Mexico, Central America, and Venezuela. It’s widely seen in Hawaii, where its flowers are used to make leis. But I was surprised to learn it’s not native to those islands.

To the left is an asparagus fern or foxtail fern. There seems to be a lot of Internet confusion about the name. For example, asparagus fern and foxtail ferns were referred to as both separate species and the same. Latin names were no help either–I saw the plant variously referred to with the Latin names Asparagus densiflorus, Asparagus sprengeri, Protasparagus densiflorus ‘Meyersii,’ and Protasparagus meyersii.

Whatever its name is, I absolutely love this plant. I want one, except I read it’s toxic to cats. I hope the picture conveys the size of this plant. This is one of several pretty large pots of this plant at the Center. It can also be used as a groundcover in outside garden beds, treated as an annual in colder zones. It’s also widely used as filler in window boxes or other large containers. It can be used as a houseplant but will not grow as large.

Asparagus/foxtail/whatever fern actually not a fern–it doesn’t have spores like a fern but seeds. It’s a member of the Asparagus genus–like the popular vegetable Asparagus officinalis–but it’s not edible.

More photos in my next post!

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2 Comments to “Tropical plants in Rhode Island, part 1”

  1. You certainly have some interesting spots to visit C. So much beauty to enjoy. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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