The Tropic of Capricorn is the most southern circle of latitude where the sun can be directly overhead. Its northern equivalent is the Tropic of Cancer, and together they form the borders of the tropical world. The two tropics are at around Latitude 23, which is why Latitude 23 is the name of the new tropical glasshouses at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney.
Latitude 23 is a repurpose-reuse project. The plants come from the tropical collection that was held in the Pyramid and the Arc, which were demolished to make way for a new horticultural exhibition centre called The Calyx. They have been resting in the nursery, but Curator and tropical plant lover, Dr Dale Dixon always thought the treasures were too good not to share. So two charming old glasshouses next to the Fern House have been re-purposed as Latitude 23, showcasing an ever-changing selection from the tropical collection.
Grabbing my attention just inside the door last week was a white bat plant, Tacca integrifolia, with a handful of giant flowers trailing long, gently curling ribbons from the ‘mouths’ of their bat-like faces. The black-flowered bat plant, Tacca chantrieri can be grown outside in Sydney, given the right conditions, but the fabulous white version needs the protection of a glasshouse. Beyond the startling bat plant, the place is packed with treats – tassel ferns, lipstick palms, carnivorous pitcher plants, orchids, hoya and baskets of trailing Aeschynanthus species with flowers like lipstick emerging from a tube – all displayed so you can get up close and see the hairs on the leaves and the veins in the petals.
Latitude 23 is open from 11am-2pm on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays and is already drawing more visitors in a three-hour period than the Pyramid attracted in a week says Dixon. Those captured by the charms of tropical plants will next want to sign up for Dixon’s tours of the secret other half of Latitude 23, where rare plants are displayed in a glasshouse that’s not open to the public. The oddities here include ant plants, which offer ants a safe home in the honeycombed swollen base of the stem in return for the nutrients offered by their droppings.
The Papua New Guinean tongue lily is a different kind of weird. Long, thick fat leaves with a tongue-like groove protrude from bulbous brown swellings that erupt all over a big mound. As creepy as any alien, the plant steps up the horror with a dark purple ‘flower’ that looks like a cancer in a stop smoking ad. Dixon suggests I smell it, and, foolishly compliant, I bend in close for a whiff of something rotten. It’s a stinky reminder of the amazing diversity and specialisation of plants, in this case plants found in the tropical world bordered by latitude 23.
It’s time to
Longwood gardens in Pennsylvania has a mind-blowing annual budget of $50 million. Karl Gercens is in charge of the no-expense-spared glasshouse displays. Hear his thoughts on finding inspiration at the Garden Design Series, Royal Automobile Club, 10 March, 6.15pm. Tickets:$75. Details: www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au
Cut finished flowering stems of agapanthus to prevent seeds falling into the clump, or worse, somewhere else.
Scott Wilson has reclaimed and rejuvenated the kilometres of 19th century landscape hedging around his property Old Wesleydale in Tasmania. Learn the ancient skill of hedge laying at Wilson’s ‘Hedges in the landscape and their management’ course on April 16 at Old Wesleydale. Cost: $150. Details: www.oldwesleydaleheritage.com.
Beat the heat
Do an early morning harvest of ripening fruit and veg before a scorching hot day. High temperatures and hot sun will cook tomatoes on the vine and turn greens to mush