Friday 13 January 2012

Lithops and iguanas at Kew Gardens

 Lithops, or pebble plants. 
A wintry visit to Kew Gardens where I struggled with vertigo on the Treetop Walkway – it’s much easier in summer when I can’t see so much of the ground under the tree canopy – and made sure I spent time admiring the Lithops, or pebble plants, in the Princess Of Wales conservatory.
These remarkable plants do indeed look like pebbles, and we could only spot some of them because they were in flower. The rounded ‘stones’ are in fact fleshy leaves. In the wild, they grow – unsurprisingly – in the Namibian desert where they can expect a bare 10mm of rain a year.

There were a couple of gruesomely attractive Aristolochia in flower as well (right) and the Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum, which directly translates as Giant Formless Penis, and is the largest (unbranched) flower in the world) had only just finished flowering – and the plant looked exhausted as a consequence.

A particularly charming sight was this iguana (below), peeping out from behind a pillar in the conservatory. "They get them from Heathrow," said one man as he saw me staring up at it. "All the animals they try to smuggle into the country, they donate them to Kew." I have no idea if this can be true or not; if so, this asylum-seeking iguana has landed on his feet. 

A thought occurred to me in the side room that houses the canriviorous plants – the Venus’s flytraps and pitcher plants: there are a lot of plants in this particular greenhouse and the windows aren’t enormous. Do they really get enough flies buzzing in naturally to feed all these plants or do they have to breed and release them to sate the plants’ appetites?

High up on a pillar in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, he'll be competing for insects with the carnivorous plants.

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