You can learn about tropical plants at any time by visiting the window “clings” on the south face of the Wertheim Conservatory. The educational posters cover important groups of tropical plants, tropical crops, and, in the newest cling, pollination. Below is a gallery of the current and past clings.
Having trouble reading the clings? Jump to the transcripts
- Elements of the Tropics: The Aroid Family
- Elements of the Tropics: The Sunflower Family
- Elements of the Tropics: The Bromeliad Family
- Tropical Plants that Rock the World: Coffee
- Elements of the Tropics: Cycads
- Elements of the Tropics: Orchids, Orchids, Orchids
- Elements of the Tropics: The Palm Family
- The Pollination Nation
- Elements of the Tropics: The Genus Salvia
- Tropical Plants that Rocked the World: Victoria Water-lilies
- Elements of the Tropics: Figs (Ficus spp.)
- Tropical Plants that Rocked the World: Mangoes!
- Elements of the Tropics: The Genus Passiflora
- Tropical Plants that Rocked the World: Breadfruit
Clings with Transcripts
- Elements of the Tropics: The Aroid Family - With Transcript
Elements of the Tropics: The Aroid Family
There are some 3250 species of aroids, members of the family Araceae, and they are mostly tropical. The family includes many familiar genera, such as Philodendron, Dieffenbachia, Aglaonema
andCaladium, which are cultivated for their beautiful foliage.
Despite their astounding diversity of foliage, aroids have similar Inflorescences (flower-bearing structures). The spadix a fleshy axis bearing hundreds of tiny, non- showy flowers. The spathe is a bract (modified leaf) borne at the base of the spadix. The spathe is often colorful. Aroid inflorescences may be unscented (to our noses) or sweetly scented, but some aroids are pollinated by carrion flies and beetles and emit the aroma of decaying flesh!
Many aroids are epiphytes (plants that perch on other plants). Others grow in the ground from tubers, which are edible in some species. Malanga, taro
andcocoyam are aroids. A few aroids are free-floating aquatic plants.
- Anthurium sp., showing the fleshy, finger-like spadix and the white, leaf-like spathe
reeks of a mix of decayed fish and manure bulbifer
- Elements of the Tropics: The Sunflower Family - With Transcript
Elements of the Tropics: The Sunflower Family
The sunflower family (Asteraceae) is also known as the
Compositae,because their "flowers" are really clusters of two different kinds of flowers. In a typical sunflower or daisythe "eye" is composed of small, star-shaped disc flowers whereas the "petals" are strap-shaped ray flowers.
Some Asteraceae produce flowers of a single type, the ligulate flower, which is strap-like but morphologically different from the ray flower. Lettuce and dandelion bear clusters of ligulate flowers.
This information about the Asteraceae was made possible by a gift from Dr. Javier Francisco-Ortega, Dr. Hong Liu, & Eugene Francisco.
- With nearly 24,000 species, the sunflower family is one of the most diverse plant families on Earth.
- Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is native to North America. It is the fourth most important oil crop in the world.
- The "seeds" of Asteraceae are really single-seeded fruits, and they are marvelous dispersers. They travel by air with tufts of hairs that function like parachutes, or they hitch rides on animals using barbed hairs and hooks. Species of Asteraceae have colonized all the major landmasses of the world, save Antarctica.
- Elements of the Tropics: The Bromeliad Family - With Transcript
Elements of the Tropics: The Bromeliad Family
Bromeliads belong to the Bromeliaceae, a family of approximately 2650 species from throughout the Americas only one species occurs in tropical West Africa). Some grow in soil or perched on rocks, but many grow as epiphytes (perched on other plants). They are not parasites Many species absorb water through their roots, but through specialized hairs on their leaves.
Some bromeliads have rosettes of leaves that together form a cup that holds water Entire aquatic ecosystems arise in these miniature ponds, often perched high in the trees. Arthropods, mollusks
andamphibians go about their lives in these ponds.
Florida has 16 native bromeliads, including Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) and this colorful Wild Pine, Tillandsia
fasciculata. Pineapple is the fruit of a bromeliad, Ananas comosus.
This information about the Bromeliaceae was made possible by a gift from the Bromeliad Society of South Florida.
- Tillandsia bergeri
- Tillandsia ehlersiana
- Neoregelia sp.
- Pineapple is the source of
bromelian, protease enzymes used in food processing and medicine.
- Tropical Plants that Rock the World: Coffee - With Transcript
Tropical Plants that Rock the World: Coffee
Coffee is Coffea arabica (family: Rubiaceae), native to Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya. It was originally imported Europe (via Turkey) from the port city of Mocha, Yemen, Arabian Peninsula, hence the name "arabica."
Coffee berries are picked by hand. The pulp is removed from around the seeds by fermentation and washing. The seeds, now called "beans," are dried in the sun and then roasted.
Because coffee was associated with Turkey, a Muslim nation, it was initially regarded with suspicion by European Christians, but in 1645, the first European coffee house opened in Italy. Within a decade, coffee was popular in most of Europe. In Lloyd's Coffee House, in London, the insurance industry was born. The stock market also arose in London coffee houses.
Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world.
- Elements of the Tropics: Cycads - With Transcript
Elements of the Tropics: Cycads
Cycads comprise three families and ca. 300 species in the order Cycadales. They are cone-bearing plants (Gymnosperms), not flowering plants (Angiosperms). They are an ancient lineage extending back to the Permian period (over 250 million years ago), but they survived major extinction events such as the one that wiped out their contemporaries the dinosaurs.
Cycads are dioecious, meaning that male and female cones are borne on separate plants. The pollen is transported from the male cones to the females by small beetles. Often the cones emit
fragranceand generate heat to attract specific beetle pollinators. Cycads also have a symbiotic relationship with colonies of cyanobacteria (Nostoc sp.) that live in their surface roots, extracting nitrogen from the air and making it available how to their cycad hosts.
The specialist herbivore, the Atala butterfly (Eumaeus
atala), feeds exclusively on cycads during its caterpillar stage. Both the caterpillars and adults of the Atala butterfly exhibit aposematic (warning) coloration. The red abdomen of the adult butterfly signals predators that it is poisonous. The butterfly acquired its toxins from the Zamia plants that it fed upon while in the caterpillar stage. The butterfly stores the plant toxins in its body and uses them for its own defense!
Encephalamos ferox, female cone
- Roots of Zamia pumila cut to show Nostoc symbiont.
- Zamia pumila, the Coontie, is the only cycad native to the USA. It is found in Florida and Georgia.
- Elements of the Tropics: Orchids, Orchids, Orchids - With Transcript
Elements of the Tropics: Orchids, Orchids, Orchids
The orchid family, Orchidaceae, is one of the largest of plant families. Orchids are found on every continent except Antarctica but are most abundant in the wet tropics. There are over 22,500 known species with new ones being discovered every year.
Some orchid flowers are tiny, just a few millimeters across, but others are large and showy. Thousands of artificial hybrids have been made, greatly expanding the range of color, size
andshape available to orchid growers.
Orchids have been grown as ornamental plants for centuries. The Victorian orchid "craze" saw vast numbers of orchids imported into England. Few survived. Over-collecting and habitat destruction continue to threaten wild orchids.
Orchids have very specific and specialized relationships with their pollinators, which include a variety of bees, moths, flies, hummingbirds and other creatures. Some flowers, such as this Ophrys apifera, mimic the shape, texture
andodor of female bees and are pollinated by male bees attempting to mate!
This information about the Orchidaceae was made possible by a gift from the South Florida Orchid Society.
- Vanda Fuchs Blue ‘Robert’ AM/AOS, an award-winning artificial hybrid
delenatiiis native to Vietnam. It is protected under international law.
- Elements of the Tropics: The Palm Family - With Transcript
Elements of the Tropics: The Palm Family
The Palm family (Arecaceae or Palmae) encompasses over 2,500 species. They are most diverse in northwestern South America and Indomalaya. They occur in a variety of habitats but are always instantly recognizable.
Palms are second only to the grasses (wheat, rice, oats, etc.) in their usefulness to mankind. Hundreds of palms are used for food, thatch
andfiber, but a few palm products enter the international market, viz. palm oil, coconuts, dates and rattans. Palm oil and palm kernel oil (from the fruits and seeds, respectively, of the African Oil Palm) are potential sources of biodiesel.
In Florida, palms are important landscape ornamentals. Palm flowers are typically small and drab, but palm leaves provide a variety of shapes, colors
- Fruits of Elaeis guineensis, the African Oil Palm, the world’s most important tropical oil crop.
- The flowers of Nephrosperma
vanhoutteanumare small but numerous.
- Geonoma interrupta
- Dypsis crinita
- Licuala mattanensis ‘Mapu’
- Latania lontaroides
- Pollination Nation - With Transcript
Pollination – the transfer of pollen (which contains the sperm cells) from one flower to the stigma (which leads to the ovary) of another flower – is a critical step in sexual reproduction of flowering plants. The ovary matures to form a fruit, and the ovules mature to form the seeds.
Colorful, scented flowers are really just the ornamented sexual apparatus of plants. Some animals are attracted by scent, whereas others are attracted by colors and shapes. Echo-locating bats find flowers by their distinctive sonic "signature” produced by their bell or trumpet shape.
Plants engage the services of animals by rewarding them. The most common reward is nectar. Butterflies, moths, bats, bees, flies
andhummingbirds feed on nectar. Pollen, oils, and perfumes are also rewards for specialized pollinators. Some flowers offer shelter for insects, and others offer places to mate.
Some plants are deceitful: they advertise a reward, such as pollen or nectar, that does not exist. Pollinators are deceived often enough to pollinate the flowers.
Wind pollination is the dominant form of pollination in grasses and oaks. Wind pollination is a numbers game: vast amounts of pollen are produced so that at least some pollen falls on the stigmas of other flowers. Water pollination is another form of abiotic pollination that is common in submerged aquatic flowering plants.
- Diagram explaining plant pollination
- Without bees, we would not have cherries, melons, apples, cotton, citrus or honey.
- Elements of the Tropics: The Genus Salvia - With Transcript
Elements of the Tropics: The Genus Salvia
Salvia is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae. Salvia includes approximately 900 species, about half of which are tropical. The greatest diversity of tropical Salvia species is found in Mexico and in the Andes of South America.
In the evolutionary history of Salvia, there have been numerous shifts back and forth between bee- and bird- pollination. Salvias from the Americas with red, orange or purple flowers are usually pollinated by hummingbirds (which are found only in the Americas). Elsewhere, as well as in the Americas, blue- or yellow-flowered species are usually pollinated by bees seeking nectar.
Salvia divinorum is a species from the highlands of Mexico. It has gained popularity in the US and Europe, not for its flowers but for the hallucinogenic properties of its leaves. The active constituent is salvinorin A, which is a K-opioid receptor agonist.
- Salvia dorisiana is a species from Honduras.
dorisianavisited by Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) . Salvia caymanensisis found only in the Cayman Islands, where it was thought extinct but recently rediscovered alive. Its small flowers are likely visited by bees.
confertifloraof Brazil is bird-pollinated . Sage is Salvia officinalis, a Mediterranean species with a long history of medicinal and culinary use. John Evelyn, the 17th-century British diarist, said of sage, “’Tis a plant, indeed, with so many and wonderful properties as that the assiduous use of it is said to render men immortal.”
- Tropical Plants that Rocked the World: Victoria Water-lilies - With Transcript
Tropical Plants that Rocked the World: Victoria Water-lilies
Victoria is a genus of two species of spectacular water-lilies, both discovered in South America in the 19th century and named after England’s Queen Victoria. Both grow in shallow, still water. Their leaves are 1–3 meters across.
The flowers are white and in the female phase when they open the first evening. The flowers heat up and emit the fragrance of pineapple. They attract beetles that carry pollen. The flowers close in the morning, trapping the beetles, who, in their struggle to escape, transfer pollen to the stigma. On the second
eveningthe flowers enter the male phase, opening to release the beetles, now dusted with pollen, which flyoff and enter a new flower to repeat the process.
The astonishing leaves of Victoria inspired architect Joseph Paxton (1803-1865) in his design of The Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition of 1851. This was an early example of biomimicry, imitating nature to engineer solutions to human problems.
- The giant leaves with upturned edges caused a sensation among aristocratic horticulture enthusiasts in England.
- Water-lilies photo by Alan Prather
- Female phase flower (photo by Amanda Richards)
- Male phase flower (Photo by orange.tag.pixx)
Undersideof flower photo by Tammo Jan Dijkemma
- Background lilies photo by Wundoroo
- Elements of the Tropics: Figs (Ficus spp.) - With Transcript
Elements of the Tropics: Figs (Ficus spp.)
The edible fig, Ficus carica, was domesticated in Western Asia and the Near East in prehistoric times.
Some Ficus species produce their figs directly on the trunks or major branches. This is called “cauliflory” [caul-, stem; -flory, flower]. In all species, the fig is actually a hollow, vase-shaped stem bearing hundreds of tiny flowers on its inner surface. How are these flowers, enclosed by the stem, pollinated? Tiny wasps carry pollen into the fig, entering through a pore in the apex of the fig. The wasps carry out a necessary step in their life cycle inside the fig. This is one of the most remarkable symbioses in nature.
One of the most conspicuous features of many Ficus species is the abundance of aerial roots. These roots originate from branches in the canopy and grow downward. When
comein contact with soil, they grow and thicken, becoming both structural supports for the branches and additional roots for obtaining water and nutrients.
Figs (Ficus species; Moraceae) are some of the most important shrubs, trees
andclimbers in tropical forests. Their fruits are eaten by all kinds of birds, bats andother animals, which disperse the seeds. Ecologists call them “keystone species,” because if they were removed, the ecosystem would collapse, just as an arch collapses if its keystone is removed.
- Edible fig photo by Bharat Mirchandani
- Aerial roots photo by Scott Zona
- Background Ficus
racemosaphoto by Scott Zona
- Tropical Plants that Rocked the World: Mangoes! - With Transcript
Tropical Plants that Rocked the World: Mangoes!
Mangoes are Mangifera indica, one of ca. 70 species in the genus Mangifera (family Anacardiaceae). The mango has been domesticated for thousands of years, and the wild ancestor of mango is unknown.
The mango exists in hundreds of cultivated varieties, called cultivars. Once a desirable cultivar is selected, it is reproduced clonally, by grafting. A seed-grown mango is not identical to its parent and may produce undesirable fruits.
Mangoes originated in South Asia. The Portuguese introduced them into Africa and later into South America. Now mangoes grow throughout the tropics.
Anacardiaceae also include poison ivy, cashew
andpoison-wood, and the same poison in those plants (urushiol) is also in mango sap, which causes contact dermatitis in some people.
- Mango cultivars: ‘Manilita’ (upper left), ‘Royal Special (upper right), ‘Kent’ (lower left) and Keo Savoy (lower right). Photos by Emily Warschefsky.
- The mango is depicted in the carvings on the Borobudur temple, a
9th centuryBuddhist temple in Magelang, centralJava, Indonesia. Photo by Carl E. Lewis
- According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, the mango is the dominant tropical fruit crop. Mangoes are grown on six continents.
- Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) photo by Sam Fraser-Smith
- Elements of the Tropics: The Genus Passiflora - With Transcript
Elements of the Tropics: The Genus Passiflora
Passiflora (family Passifloraceae) is the genus of the Passion Flower Vine. Passiflora species are most diverse in the American tropics. Most Passiflora
arewoody vines that climb by tendrils, but some are shrubs or trees. They are famous for their complex, often showy, flowers, which are adapted to specific pollinators. They also have remarkable relationships with herbivores.
In South America, the genus has coevolved with Longwing butterflies (Nymphalidae: Heliconiinae) whose caterpillars feed on Passiflora species. The caterpillars take in the toxins of the Passiflora leaves (cyanogenic
glycocides) and become poisonous themselves. The butterflies often exhibit aposematic coloration and are the classic examples of both Batesian and Müllerian mimicry.
The leaves of some species are used medicinally, but the fruits are even more important as a source of juice.
Passion Flowers were so named by Catholic missionaries, as the flowers were used as mnemonic devices for the story of the Passion or Crucifixion of Christ: the 3 stigmas represented the 3 nails, the spiky corona represented the crown of thorns, the 10 tepals, the 10 true Apostles.
- Bee-pollination: Passiflora
cincinnata(photo by Linda De Volder)
- Hummingbird-pollination: Passiflora
parritae(photo by James Gaither)
- Bat-pollination: Passiflora
contracta(photo by Alex Popovkin)
- Our tiny native Passiflora
suberosais the larval host of the Zebra Longwing Butterfly. (Passiflora suberosaphoto by Jason Hollinger; Zebra Longwing Butterfly photo by Amy Evenstad)
- Fruits photo by Hafiz Issadeen
- Bee-pollination: Passiflora
- Tropical Plants that Rocked the World: Breadfruit - With Transcript
Tropical Plants that Rocked the World: Breadfruit
Breadfruit is Artocarpus altilis. It is a member of the Fig Family (Moraceae). It probably originated in New Guinea and was transported throughout the islands of the Pacific by ancient Polynesians. It is grown for its large fruits, which are rich in carbohydrates and vitamin C.
British slave-owners in the Caribbean saw breadfruit as a cheap source of food for slaves. In 1787, the HMS Bounty, captained by William Bligh, was dispatched to Tahiti to bring breadfruit trees to the Caribbean. The mission failed when the crew mutinied and returned to Tahiti. Captain Bligh survived the ordeal and succeeded in
a secondattempt in 1791. The story of the mutiny on the Bounty has been told many times in books and films.
Captain Bligh’s service to the British Empire was recognized when ackee or akee, a tree brought from Africa to the Caribbean, was given the scientific name Blighia sapida. Breadfruit and ackee are not botanically related.
The polygons on the surface of breadfruit mark the outlines of the tiny individual flowers. Breadfruit is what botanists call a multiple
fruit, which is a single fruit formed from many individual flowers.
- Breadfruit photo by Peter
- Breadfruit sliced in half — photo by Steve Brett
- Posters for "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "The Bounty"
- Ackee photo by Wayne Marshall
- Breadfruit photo by Peter