Behind the scenes at Kew

Behind the scenes of kew’s glasshouses
Rare tropical plants saved for the future of the world and how they do it!

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A few years back now myself and a few others went to Kew one weekend to see behind the scenes of their amazing tropical Glasshouse. Kew opens the doors once a year, one weekend in September, and you really have to keep your eyes peeled for this fabulous opportunity!

I happen to follow several of Kew’s Botanists on Twitter and with only hours to go I spotted a tweet saying it would be happening that weekend. So much excitement!

Unlike the Orchid festival in February where I was given my Wonderful Zygopetlum this is much more about the nuts and bolts of how Kew not only cares for some of its rare specimens but also, perhaps more importantly, how they are saving them and reintroducing them to the wild.

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On hand to give you all the information about the exhibits and massive glasshouses, not normally open to public view, are an army of helpful, knowledgable volunteers and staff alike.

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The different zones are climate controlled giving the plants as close to possible the perfect environment and growing conditions needed to keep them in tip-top conditions for seed production.

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Some of the plants on display are very familiar to us now, the bromeliads over the last 10 or 20 years in particular have become almost ‘throwaway’ houseplants. Sold en masse in a certain swedish furniture shop with the most feeble of care instructions they often die at the end of their flowering season but they need not! I kept a bromeliad overwinter in a cool domestic greenhouse once for 3 years and not only did it rebloom but also had pups…. weird turn of phrase I know, but the process of a plant having pups refers to the babies it produces vegetatively around its base after flowering. They are of course complete clones of itself and many plants do this. Agave’s, Aloe’s and Bromeliads being just a few…

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Bromeliad is a wide term that includes 3475 known species ranging from the humble pineapple through to the more exotic looking Tillandsia or Guzmania. Some are epiphytes, growing on the bark of trees for example. Others are classed as terrestrial, their roots firmly in the soil.

They often have intensely coloured bracts, modified leaves, to highlight their tiny flowers. This of course is one of the reasons their popularity has risen in home decoration. The colour on these can last for many months.

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Another set of plants whose popularity is rising are of course the Orchids although not all orchids are what you would consider suitable as houseplants. Most people will have seen a Phalenopsis, sometimes dyed hideous colours, at their local supermarket. Very few would associate the flavouring Vanilla with an Orchid though! The Vanilla Orchid is a beautiful twining, climbing epiphyte whose seed pods have become synonymous around the world with ice cream, imagine a world without Vanilla, another good reason to save endangered habitats!

Not all orchids have showy flowers either, they are as diverse as we are…

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But lets face it… most do

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It’s not just orchids and bromeliads on show though!

Kew’s work encompasses everything from this massive Amorphophallus titanum

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To these beautiful Colocasia….

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and the incredibly rare Ramosmania rodriguesi, which they have helped save from extinction.

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In fact there are so many amazing examples of plants to view I couldn’t pick just one to concentrate on for a short post! So I’ll leave you with a few of their loveliest/weirdest and urge you to keep your eyes peeled next September for news of when the glasshouses will be open again… and the Herbarium! Another on my “To do” list!

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Finally, one last reason to visit Kew in the autumn…. the leaves!

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