Blue Oil Fern
Microsorum thailandicum and Microsorum siamense
As their species names suggest, these two iridescent blue ferns are native not to Pandora, but to Thailand, where they are found growing among or on limestone rocks. M. thailandicum has elongated strap-shaped leaves, whereas M. siamense has shorter, elliptical leaves.
Blue is an extremely rare color in plants and animals and the origin of the blue on these ferns even moreso. Their iridescent blue-green color shifts with the light and viewing angle and is not due to a blue pigment, but a phenomenon called structural iridescence, also found in a few animals, like the also seen in the blue-green tips of peacock tail feathers and the wings of Morpho butterflies.
The intense blue of these ferns is caused by coiled cellulose nanostructures in their upper leaf surface which scatter and reflect light in blue wavelengths instead of green. This is hypothesized to be an adaptation against sun damage from intense sun spots that occasionally flicker across the plants in their low light forest understorey habitat.
These otherworldly blue ferns glow up the base of the blue-tinged Pandoran vein pods which absorb methane from the air and collecting it in globular structures float away and explode high in the sky upon reaching maximum capacity.
Colocasia 'Pharaoh Mask'
Thick, dark purple veins bulge from the vivid green leaves of this impressive Colocasia cultivar, reminiscent of the iconic striped Nemes headcloth widely recognizable from the gold mask of Pharaoh Tutankhamun.
The exaggerated veins give the leaves of this cultivar a unique, fluted, 3D-effect making it pop out of the landscape. Bred by American tropical plant breeder and collector Brian Williams, this cultivar was originally registered as Colocasia ‘COPHAMA’.
Aechmea 'Blue Tango'
With its electric blue flowers, hot pink flower stalk, and neon green leaves, the supercharged colour combination in this spectacular bromeliad cultivar is really out-of-this-world!
Think those brilliant bluish-purple scales are petals? Think again! They are flower bracts and sepals which shield and protect the reproductive parts of the flowers. Try and spot any petals or reproductive organs poking out at the tips– they are greenish-white to tan in colour.
This cultivar is a patented hybrid of two South and Central American species, Aechmea dichlamydea var. trinitensis and A. fendleri and was registered by Florida nursery Bullis Bromeliads in 2001. Both parent species possess light lavender to purple flowers and pink to coral flower stalks. Those colours have been brilliantly intensified in the flower stalks (inflorescences) of ‘Blue Tango’ which can last as long as 5-7 months!
Is this feathery, scaly, fern-like plant blue or green? Perhaps both or neither, depending on how you look at it!
The peacock spikemoss is another understorey plant whose blue colour is literally a trick of the light! Its feathery leaves shift in color from electric blue to bright green depending on your viewing angle due to structural iridescence.
Plants grown under a specific red:far red-light ratio naturally occuring in some forest understorey environments produce two microscopic matrices on the cell walls of the upper leaf surface. These two layers interfere with light, reflecting it off the leaves in blue wavelengths as opposed to the usual chlorophyll-pigment green!
Begonia species and cultivars
Admit it: like many people, you only notice plants if they have large, brightly-coloured flowers…
Hopefully this rainbow of vivid colours and pleasing patterns on Begonia leaves can help chase away your plant blindness for good!
Many of the brightly colored begonia cultivars on display are from the Begonia rex-cultorum group, encompassing over 4,000 cultivars. All Rex Cultorum begonias are said to be descended from a single plant of the painted leaf begonia, Begonia rex, a species native to northern India and southeastern China. Fittingly enough, according to horticultural legend, this single plant of Begonia rex entered cultivation as a stowaway plant growing on an orchid imported to England!
Aechmea 'Blue Rain'
This sister hybrid to Aechmea ‘Blue Tango’ is originally registered as Aechmea ‘Del Mar’. It sports a similarly dazzling flower spike with bright blue-purple and white sepals on a bright red stalk.
While it also has the same two Aechmea species as parents as ‘’Blue Tango’, ‘Blue Rain’ has A. fendleri as its female parent and A. dichlamydea var. trinitensis as the male parent, the exact opposite of ‘Blue Tango’!
Like most Aechmea cultivars, it is a slow grower, and can take several years to flower. After producing a flower stalk and setting seed, the mother plant will slowly wither away, but not before producing clonal basal shoots or ‘pups’ at its base, which, along with the seeds, keep the population alive. To speed growth and ensure the desired identical coloration, all the Aechmea ‘Blue Rain’ and ‘Blue Tango’ plants featured here were propagated by tissue culture.
These unassuming woody vines native to the Philippines have been growing in Cloud Forest for several years and are set to put on a fantastic display of their iconic, beaked, turquoise flowers that seem to almost glow in the dark!
The otherworldly blue of the jade vine’s flowers is due to co-pigmentation – the presence of two pigments under very specific conditions! Within the petal epidermal cells, malvin (an reddish-blue anthocyanin), and saponarin, a flavone, are produced in a very specific 1:9 molar ratio. The slightly alkaline environment of the epidermal cells turns malvin blue and saponarin yellow, resulting in a unique aquamarine colour.
At twilight and under the moon, the pale blue-green flowers really stand out, particularly to their bat pollinators who have light receptors particularly sensitive to green, blue, and even UV wavelengths!
Finger Leaf Philodendron
Do these elegantly recurved leaves remind you of a pair of deer antlers or perhaps a crown of laurel?
Botanists think they look like a bit like toes on a foot, calling this leaf form pedately-compound, meaning “foot-like”. How appropriate, considering they’re about to be trampled on by a rampaging hammerhead titanothere!
Formerly in the genus Philodendron, this Amazonian aroid is native to the flooded forests near the Rio Negro and Solimões river in Brazil.
Seychelle Stilt Palm
These unique spiny-trunked palms are also one of the few palm species with prominent stilt roots, thought to be an adaptation to anchor them securely in their native habitat of steep, unstable, rainforest slopes in the Seychelles.
Native to just three of the Seychelles' 115 islands off the eastern coast of Africa, these palms are listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN, as they compete for space with invasive species such as true cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) and Malabar plum (Syzygium jambos).
They are planted near the elegant Pandoran cycad or tsyorina’wll (Pseudocycas altissima), where the elongated aerial stilt roots of this palm mirror the gnarled, twisted trunk and roots of the Pandoran cycad.
A Pandoran fern might eschew the complicated reproductive cycle of spores, gametophytes, and sporophytes found in ferns native to Earth and directly produce baby fernlets on its leaves!
That’s just what this edible, incredible, New Zealand mother fern does! In addition to reproducing via spores common to all ferns on its fertile fronds, this unique fern is known for its prolific production of tiny plantlets at the tips of its large, finely divided sterile fronds.
Each plantlet or a baby fern is develops from a ball-shaped nodule called a bulbil on a mature frond, hence the species name, bulbiferum (bulbil-producing). Starting out with a single leaf, each bulbil eventually grows more and larger leaves, eventually breaking off and falling to the ground or pushing its parent leaf to the ground under the collective weight of dozens of little plantlets. Once they touch moist soil, these plantlets take root and become new, independent plants.
With their net-like venation in contrasting colours of red, white, pink, and purple, the modified leaves of these trumpet pitcher plants are as beautiful as they are deadly to their insect prey.
The Sarracenia species these plants originated from are all native to eastern North America. Growing in the waterlogged, nutrient-poor soils of bogs and seasonally wet grasslands, these plants have evolved elaborate traps out of their leaves to attract, catch, digest, and absorb nutrients from prey insects to provide extra nutrients – particularly, nitrogen, which is lacking in their soil environment.