Great Brazilian Plants
Brazilian plants are some of the most exciting on the planet!
With all eyes on that fantastic city Rio de Janeiro and the Olympic Games being held there, I thought that I’d share with you some of my plant discoveries from visiting Brazil last autumn!
The very word ‘Brazil’ conjures up images of vast rainforests dripping with rain and steamy heat and that’s true in part. Sadly, the rainforest there is diminishing by the minute and this is naturally a cause of great concern.
But Brazil is huge and diverse and it is this diversity of habitat and climate that results in it having one of the world’s greatest plant collections!
Sitting on the equator and the fifth largest country on the planet it is a massive land mass and constitutes almost half of South America. Many of the plants that grow there would not survive a British winter without protection from low temperatures and so those that we do grow tend to be indoor or conservatory plants.
Epiphytic Brazilian plants
Orchids and epiphytes abound in countless quantities and many of these are very suitable for our homes. Some are terrestrial Brazilian plants but most grow as true epiphytes on the trunks and branches of all manner of exotic tree species. Bromeliads and Tillandsia air plants are everywhere often growing in such profusion that branches are brought down by their weight. These are great plants for out bathrooms and kitchens where they get the higher humidity that helps them flourish.
Climbing Brazilian plants
Climbing Brazilian plants clamber up and smother many trees but somehow they cope and just reach higher for the light. Bougainvillea and passion flower are to be found growing wild in Brazil and of course have now found their way around the globe and into many a garden. Philodendron and Devil’s Ivy are common place and climb the trunks of most trees. Not satisfied with scrambling along the forest floor, these evergreens reach hundreds of feet up into the very top of trees. Surprisingly, they are extremely good and easy to please indoor house plants for us and fortunately their vigour there is much reduced!
Water plants grow so profusely that many choke waterways. The water hyacinth is the biggest culprit and where it has been carelessly introduced to the wild in countries such as Africa and India it poses a massive threat to the native fauna and flora. On the other hand the giant water lily is far less of a threat and a plant that is well worth seeing! There is a fine specimen happily growing in the University of Bristol Botanic Garden’s greenhouse and there was one –perhaps still is- in the open air at Cotswold Wildlife Park in Gloucestershire. The latter when I saw it a few years ago was growing in heated water. The leaves of this giant water lily can grow to over 2.5 metre diameter and are said to support the weight of a toddler if their weight is well spread out! Other more familiar lilies can be seen in slow or still water and, unlike the hardy ones that we grow in our ponds, the flowers of the Brazilians plants are held well clear of the water.
Of the many tree species seen in Brazil, few are familiar to us. However, many do produce spectacularly coloured blooms. One can spot bright yellow or pink flowered trumpet trees [Tabebuia] from a mile away! Between these are a remarkable range of palm trees made all the more spectacular when ‘decorated’ with exotic looking hyacinth macaws!
More Exotic Brazilian Plants
Other ‘exotics’ Brazilian plants that are more familiar are of course banana and bamboo. Both grow at a breath-taking pace with all that heat and moisture.
Whilst I didn’t see it growing in the wild, the Angel’s Trumpet plant Brugmansia must be one of the most spectacular of all flowering shrubs! Its long blooms are strongly and pleasantly scented and this can readily be grown in a container outside in summer. However it will not tolerate frost and so needs the shelter of a frost free well-lit place to over winter.
Rio de Janeiro’s Botanic Garden
I’ve only scratched the surface of Brazilian plants and Brazil’s huge flora and if you get the chance to go I’d strongly recommend it. The very mature botanic garden in Rio is well worth a visit although its care is perhaps not up to the finest botanic gardens that Europe has to offer. But when I visited there were encouraging signs of recent investment with one of the very best cacti and succulent plant collections that I’ve seen anywhere in the world. With that great climate, this newly planted display was outside of course!
Do you recognise and grow any of these plants in your home or garden?
You may be interested to hear about more plants that I saw growing wild in Brazil here in a blog that I’ve called Houseplants in the Forest.