Milwaukee Orchid Show, Part 3 The Domes

Now that you've been inundated with orchids, how about a little variety? The domes provide a beautiful venue for events like the Milwaukee Orchid Show, but they are spectacular in their own right from an architectural perspective.

The domes also hold an extensive collection of permanent and seasonal displays. While the domes and the plants within are beautiful, it pained me a little to see Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki' growing in a conservatory. Milwaukee is zone 5b and this shrub is only hardy to zone 6a, although given some of the other plants I've seen so far growing outside, I wouldn't be surprised if this plant were growing in some local zone-pusher's garden.

Surprisingly, there were some gorgeously-variegated Clivia miniata in the Exhibit Dome. While lacking the mass plantings of Longwood's clivia plantings in their conservatory, The Domes have a more impressive show of variegated selections. Here are a couple, just to provide a some examples. The smaller plant with white veins and rose colored flowers in the top picture is Porphyrocoma pohliana, or rose pinecones. I've grown this adorable little weed myself. It tolerates low light and has attractive flowers occasionally punctuated by the rosy cones with purple flowers. It does reseed in greenhouses and even in neighboring containers in the house, thus my classifying it as a weed.

This begonia was used extensively throughout the exhibit dome. I am seriously craving one of my own. The gift shop sells plants a few plants. I'll have to check next time I visit.

For a moment I was petrified that these dwarf conifers were growing permanently in the dome. Are even these not hardy here? But I was reassured that this is merely a seasonal display. I may still be a bit suspicious, but I'm going to hope I was told the truth.

Magnolia grandiflora, however, is resigned to living in the conservatory year-round, not being hardy enough to survive outdoors in winter.

This should look familiar to most Pacific Northwest gardeners, a Phormium tenax, or New Zealand flax. Borderline in all but the mildest gardens back home, this plant is certainly not venturing outdoors in Milwaukee.

Leaving the Exhibition House, we made our way into the Tropical House. This house is subject to themes which get switched out at some interval which I am not aware of. Can you guess what the current theme is?

How about now? Careful, if you don't guess soon, you're likely to get eaten. Ok, I don't want anyone to become dinner, so I'll tell you. The theme is dinosaurs! There were dinosaurs roaming all around the conservatory. This velociraptor (which my spell check wants to correct to "velocipede," great job there), was guarding a lush display of various tropical foliage plants.

Vibrant tropical flowers punctuated the lush foliage. This one is, I believe, Alpinia purpurata.

A long-leaved Anthurium vittarifolium drapes itself over the rock wall of the jungle, dripping into a pool below.

Vines like this philodendron are allowed to grow naturally up the trunks of the many full-sized trees in this house of the conservatory. I love the rib-cage appearance of the philodendron roots wrapping around the trunk.

Here a ficus tree provides interest with its own aerial roots, which come down from branches above and find soil, gradually providing more support for the branches, which in the jungle can be very wide-spreading. The spaces created by the roots also provide many homes for animals and other plants.

This pewter-leaved beauty is some relative of the genus Alocasia. Actually, it may be a member of that genus, but I want to say it's something else. Either way, I want one!

The aroid above pairs wonderfully with this narrow-leaved croton (Codiaeum variegatum cv.)

So many colors! And I love the narrow, dagger-like leaves. Anyone have any idea as to the cultivar?

The height of the domes (85 feet at the apex) allows for some truly impressive trees to be grown, such as this Canary Island date palm (Phoenix canariensis), which still had a fair amount of headroom. And nearly all the way up its trunk is a huge vining aroid, whether a Philodendron or Rhaphidophora, I'm not sure.

At one point on the path I found these large, rather fleshy red flowers. I searched in vain for their source for several moments, until finally I looked straight up at the tree overhanging the path and spotted more of these unusual flowers hanging from long, dangling stems.

One of the most unusual sights in the Tropical House was the African sausage tree, Kigelia africana. The fruits, which can grow up to three feet long and weigh as much as 22 pounds, hang from the branches on flexible stems that can be up to 20 feet long! None of the fruits or stems were nearly that size on this tree, the largest being perhaps half that size hanging on a stem of 6-8 feet or so. I was a little too intimidated to get exact measurements

Can I get one of these rock walls in my apartment? Complete with tropical vegetation?

Look out! That Brachiosaurus is going after the traveler palm! Good thing it's just a baby. If Mama was around that palm would be toast.

Looking more closely at the top of the traveler's palm (Ravenala madagascariensis) a tracery of creeping fig creates a cross-hatching pattern with the leaf bases of the palm.

Another glorious blaze of color is provided by this heliconia.

There was so much more to see than I've shown here, but by this time we were all feeling hungry and overwhelmed by the wealth of plants around us. We left to eat and digest all that we had seen before coming back for a couple presentations at the orchid show and a tour of the desert house. To my great shame, I left my camera in my friend's truck and was too lazy to go back for it. I know at least one person who will be disappointed not to see the Desert House. Guess I'll have to make another trip to The Domes so I can make up for my oversight.


  1. I'm glad you featured the rest of the planting in the Dome Evan. They have a wonderful collection and the African Sausage tree must have been a sight to behold in the flesh. The Domes really do look very similar to the Eden Project ones.

    1. Even though I have a fondness for orchids, the rest of the Domes was much more interesting. I guess now I know when I want to visit the Eden Project I can go to the Domes and pretend!

  2. You get back to that desert house quick! How can you leave me hanging like that? (loved the tropical display).

    1. Aye aye, Captain! I'll get back there as soon as I can!


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