Saturday, September 13

At "Home" in Madagascar

It's been a month or two since I started to volunteer at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, and I'm already starting to feel a little more settled in. Some of the employees I see each week now have some recognition in their eyes when they say hello to me, and I can get through most of the "volunteer task list" for the weekend without having to ask for instructions.

Last weekend, while playing around with the digital SLR from work, I brought it to the Botanical Garden to capture a few shots. I thought I'd start by sharing the ones from the Spiny Desert of Madagascar glasshouse, which is where I spend most of my volunteering time. It's a wild, somewhat Seussian place, as you can see from the shot of the replica Baobab tree that is the centerpiece of the exhibit:

There are 5 actual living Baobabs within the exhibit as well--one of which is estimated at more than 80 years old! I do a lot of watering in the Madagascar glasshouse, interestingly enough, but it's not really the run-of-the-mill stuff I do at my home garden. For example, check out this little oasis stream that runs through part of the biome:

It doesn't look too exciting, really, until you realize that I have to go back into that stream area to water some plants. Here I leaned in a little closer to get a peek, so you could get a better feel for the the stone-hopping and stream-straddling I get to do in this little area, to get back to the white bird of paradise, screw palms, and other tropicals:

It's actually kind of fun--I feel like an intrepid explorer when I duck into the stream area, I admit it. The water isn't all that deep, so the worst case scenario, if I should happen to "fall in," would be wet feet or maybe a twisted ankle. Other areas that I work in should be so friendly! Among the perils are many spiny plants like this one, unfocused in the foreground:

It is sometimes a little hard to remember that you can't really grab that "tree trunk" near you without coming away with a palmful of painful thorns. See that ledge in the center of the picture, by the way? I use that as a stepping area to pull myself up onto "the upper cliff" to do some watering and access the hookup there.

It IS as steep as it looks--I have to dangle one foot down off of the top of the "cliff" to find the step when I dismount, which is kind of amusing. Luckily, a sturdy, bolted-in vent grate at the edge of the upper cliff offers a good grip for your hands while you're climbing up or down. Here's a shot of the top of the ledge, where I can sometimes be found standing with a watering hose in hand:

There are lots more spiny plants up on the cliff, and many different kinds of euphorbias, too. I always remember to be careful around the pencil trees in particular, because their branches can break off and exude a milky sap that can hurt your eyes and irritate your skin. Here's an example of a pencil tree, this one with a silver dollar plant cascading through it:

Also on the cliff ledge are a couple of smaller versions of this yellow-flowering uncarina:

While I think that these are pretty flowers, and that the plant has a wonderful form and texture, the leaves can emit this gooey stuff when you break them that I really hate. If you've ever touched a slug and then found yourself with that slime all over your fingers that you just can't get off... well, that's what it feels like when you tangle with an uncarina. Ick!

Equally pretty but much less messy is this Bismarck palm, bismarckia nobilis:

I love the reddish "hairs" that you see on the main trunk above... but my favorite thing is being back by the base of the one in this photo, watering, and looking up to see the fans of palm leaves silhouetted against the greenhouse ceiling and sky. (No photo of the leaves at that angle, sorry, it's in a restricted area.)

Speaking of restricted areas, I haven't yet mustered the courage to ask whether I could take a picture of the working glasshouse to post on my blog. So here's a shot of it as seen through the doorway from the public area:

Just to the left of this little window is a sign that basically tells the public to keep out. But I have seen many people peek inside this window, so I don't feel too badly about taking and posting this particular photo.

Just to the right of that door is the place I least enjoy watering. It's called the Upper Pandanus--because of the plants that are grown there--and you need an extension ladder to get to the top. To give you an idea of scale, the bottom of the roof on the left is a little bit over my head, so the top of the roof is probably 7-1/2' or 8' tall:

I don't fear ladders enough to beg off of watering the Upper Pandanus, but I don't particularly like them. The roof, by the way, is for the new chameleon cage that was just put out on display. There are three chameleons in this cage apparatus, two males and one female. Here's the female--she tends to be up near the cage lights every time I see her:

And here is one of the males, her potential mate:

Light, temperature and mood determine a chameleon's color--the do not change color in response to the colors around them. For example, males change color when they see a female with whom they are interested, to let her know. If her color does not change, then it probably means she's not opposed to mating... but if she's already pregnant, for example, or just not interested, she may turn another color to let him know he should back off. (Wouldn't it change the entire dating game if people could learn such tricks?!)

Even though I've been working in the glasshouse for over a month now, I really have been enjoying learning about all of these new things about the spiny desert of Madagascar. I feel very fortunate to spend some of my time helping to maintain this area of the glasshouse... from plants to animals, it really is a fascinating place, unlike any other on this earth.


growingagardenindavis said...

This is so fascinating and different~thanks for the special guided tour~you're certainly getting an education in a very different area than your usual gardening experiences!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim, I missed some of your posts and will have to go back due to too much time on techie stuff. Having that camera to use and working in a place as unique gives you tremendous, if slightly dangerous opportunities to wow us. Quite different from backyard gardens! I can picture you up on ladders and sneaking pix throught cracked doorways and climbing rock walls to water and get to occasional shot, you must have some sturdy footwear I hope. Great posts, thanks.

Gail said...

What a great volunteer job! You are getting to go to places that we only get to peak at...before long, you'll be behind that door! Thank you for a wonderful interesting to see plants in a naturalistic setting that we have often seen as houseplants!


flydragon said...

Hi Kim,
Thanks for another great tour. That chameleon certainly has a face only another chameleon could love. And your description of the uncarina goo.... ewwwwwww.

Kylee Baumle said...

I've been there a few times, of course, but never in this way! Thanks for the inside scoop on the spiny desert!

Speaking of Madagascar, in my post from yesterday (Saturday), there is a photo of something from Madagascar. How's that for a teaser for you? ;-)

Unknown said...

Leslie, that's certainly the truth. I told them when they assigned me to the glasshouse that I didn't know much about houseplants other than a few things I always overwintered, so they should not assume I knew anything about what I would be doing! lol. It's been very fun to learn, though.

Frances, yes, sturdy, waterproof footwear is a must! I've been "good," though, and have only taken photos after my volunteer hours are over, from the public areas. I go out and get my camera and then come back--but it makes for more interesting photos now that I know what I'm looking at, I think! :)

Gail, I do get to go behind that door... just not with the camera. *grin* It really is fun to see all of these plants as they would be seen in the wild... I never knew that there were so many spiny euphorbias beyond the usual "Crown of Thorns," and it gives me many more ideas for how to site them in the house around other plants.

flydragon, lol! The chameleons look a little crazy, too, with their eyes that move independently of each other--and all the way around that socket, even. Very interesting creatures. I should get a good picture of their feet--each one splits down the middle, with a certain number of toes on each side of the split. So they can use that split to grab onto things. Way cool.

Kylee, really? I somehow missed that post, then--I just got to see the 'Zowie' post yesterday! Will have to go back and check out what I missed. By the way, are you coming up next year for the big plant show? The theme is "Going to the Movies" or something similar, so it ought to be fun... I think I'm going to help volunteer as needed throughout the weekend, but am sure that we could figure out a time to walk around--and for you to finally see my garden! :)

Lisa at Greenbow said...

What a fun vol job Kim. I can see why you would enjoy doing this. It is like a different world. This winter you will really enjoy being in the heat of the glasshouse.

Anonymous said...


What an awesome post. How cool is it that you get to do some work there and help maintain the plants? I wish I had extra hours in the day and drove so I could volunteer at a couple of places here.

Thanks for the pics.

Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post! I have some madagascar succulents in my cacti collections and it was real pleasure to see some of them in the habitat.

Annie in Austin said...

Did you know about the kind of physical agility you'd need at the time you joined the volunteers, Kim? This place looks fascinating, but a little daunting!
The chameleons are very cool.

I'm still trying to to figure out why your new posts aren't showing up for me on Bloglines. I pop over once in awhile to check, so do see them eventually!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

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Anonymous said...

I think there's something wonderfully inspirational about seeing gardens from distant places - it broadens what we think of as possible, that shape of leaf! that color! It was fun to see these images.

lisa said...

That's such a cool job! Boy, I'd quit medicine in a heartbeat if I could find a job like that that paid similarly. (I know yours is a volunteer position, I was just veering off on a daydream...;-) I'm kind of surprised they didn't install drip or mist irrigation for those out-of-the-way plants, rather than have people climb to them.

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