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On the Meconostigma collections of Longwood Botanical Gardens in Pennsylvania, USA

Last Edit: 2014/8/13

Philodendron speciosum.

On August 9, I visited the Longwood Botanical Gardens in Pennsylvania. It was the first time I had ever come to this garden, although its reputation as one of the finest botanical gardens in the area had not been a secret to me even during college, when some graduate friends of mine had suggested we go see the place during spring for its displays of flowers. Unfortunately, for some reason or the other, we never did visit the place at that time, but I decided it was now time to rectify the situation.

The first thing one should realize about the garden is that it has a comprehensive and very useful website that allows visitors to access information about all the plants on its grounds. This information includes the location of the specimen (complete with a map), as well as images, observed flowering times, and even the source and the date the specimen was obtained. You can access this resource starting from the Plant Explorer page.

Using this system, I immediately identified all the relevant specimens, in addition to their accession numbers and general location.

Philodendron bipinnatifidum

  1. 1957-1512*A 1957 Tropical Terrace
  2. 1957-1512*B 1957 Tropical Terrace
  3. 2006-0370*A 2006 Palm House
  4. 2006-0370*B 2006 Palm House
  5. 2007-0279*A 2007 Indoor Children's Garden

Philodendron corcovadense

  1. 1991-0764*A 1991 Cascade Garden

Philodendron 'Golden Xanadu'

  1. 2013-0898*A 2013 East Conservatory

Philodendron mello-barretoanum

  1. 1986-0374*C 1986 Palm House

Philodendron speciosum

  1. 1992-0537*A 1992 Cascade Garden

Philodendron undulatum

  1. 1957-1514*A 1957 Cascade Garden

Philodendron 'Xanadu'

  1. 2005-0103*A 2005 Cascade Garden
  2. 2007-0355*A 2007 Palm House
  3. 2012-0553*A 2012 Tropical Terrace

It should be noted that the botanical garden is not infallible, and there are times when a plant is unknown or mis-identified. One of the first Mecos I focused on was labeled as being "Philodendron tweedianum" (#1957-1512*A), which a cursory glance immediately showed to be P. bipinnatifidum. To their credit, the garden quickly changed the specimen designation to the correct species when they were informed of this mis-labeling.

Longwood Botanical Gardens itself is one of the best public botanical institutions I have ever visited. The outside gardens were very well maintained, but the architecture of the conservatory was even more striking and magnificent, with tall columns covered in green and flowing water everywhere accentuating the healthy plants that draped, drooped, rose, and clambered and climbed all over the buildings.

Conservatory. Click for larger images.

For Meco students, there is no doubt at all that the most important area in the garden is in the conservatory, where the Cascade Gardens contains three of the rarer specimens. Leland Miyano noted that this portion of the conservatory was designed by the famed plantsman Roberto Burle Marx in 1992 at a cost of several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Although one of the smaller areas in the conservatory, it is a beautifully designed piece of work. As you enter the room, the first thing you'll see is a living wall of bromeliads and smaller epiphytyes (e.g. Tillandsia), flanked by sheets of running water and dominated in the center by a very large specimen of Philodendron speciosum.

P. speciosum at Cascade Garden. Click for larger image.

The walkway then winds its way past this gorgeous display, where behind it you'll suddenly be faced with another living wall, but this time with one of the largest specimens of Philodendron corcovadense that I've ever seen. This particular meco covers almost half the wall on that side, using numerous aerial roots to cling to the vertical surface. It eclipses the numerous other Philos (including one smaller P. xanadu) and Monstera plants that also hugged the wall, while above and to one side of it, colorful bromeliads completed the scenery.

P. corcovadense has one of the smaller leaves in the subgenus, but it was nonetheless a sight to see such a large and healthy specimen and the many inflorescences that hid among its foliage.

P. corcovadense at Cascade Garden. Click for larger image.

Just a few steps away, its smooth white and brown meter and a half trunk standing almost straight up, is another meco labeled "Philodendron undulatum". This specimen was obtained in 1957 from John Shearer Nurseries, which was also where Longwood Botanical Gardens obtained the P. bipinnatifidum that was misnamed as P. tweedianum, and it is very likely mis-labeled as well. The original description of P. undulatum notes that it is Terrestrial, hemiepiphyte or epilith. Internodes 0.1-0.2 x 10-22 cm, stem covered with very long and lignified intravaginal squamules., whereas this specimen had numerous but almost inconspicuous intravaginal squamules and petioles that were D-shaped and somewhat concave adaxially, with a distinct midrib at the center. Leland notes that it may have affinities to the P. speciosum complex.

Unknown meco at Cascade Garden. Click for larger images.

I should note that the meco that was mis-labeled as "P. tweedianum" is located just before the entrance to the Cascade Gardens, where one of its huge leaves provides a temporary hindrance to incoming visitors. The old label is still affixed next to it.

P. bipinnatifidum next to Cascade Gardens. Click for larger images.

Beyond the mecos, Longwood Gardens is notable in that it has a magnificent display of water lilies in the central pools that are surrounded by the conservatory buildings. The species include the huge tropical Victoria amazonica and V. cruiziana, some of which were flowering when we visited the place. If you would like to learn more about these huge critters, click to this non-commercial site called Victoria Adventures.

Water lilies in the pools within the conservatory buildings. Click for larger images.

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