Sunday, February 06, 2011

Canadian Adventure Part 5: Le Jardin Botanique de Montréal

I arrived at Le Jardin Botanique de Montréal shortly after it opened. Save a few paths, the grounds were closed and under about two feet of snow. The café was also closed. But I spent hours at the garden, for they had several greenhouses. Just looking at these pictures now, in the middle of a different winter, revives that feeling of seeing green in winter. Even in Portland, where the winters are mostly green (with moss, sword ferns, and the needles of Douglass firs), visiting a greenhouse, seeing a particularly healthy tropical houseplant, or just looking at pictures of flowering abundance simultaneously completely breaks the icy tranquility of believing yourself content with winter dormancy while quenching the thirst for green life it has just awakened. It's a reminder of what you're missing, yet good for the soul. And so was my trip to the greenhouses of Montréal.

Other visitors were few. I roamed the collections in peace.

A full-grown Murraya koenigii, known in English as the curry leaf tree. It is in the family Rutaceae, whose famous members include all Citrus species such as grapefruit, pomelo, orange, lemon, and lime. I have never seen the fruit of a curry leaf tree, but the leaves do resemble those clinging to the satsumas I've gotten at Oregon supermarkets. Curry powder was invented by the English to try to mimic the flavor of curry leaves, which did not survive the long journey to England from India. Now, curry leaves can be found in America, but their flavor is not really like curry powder, which I think has a very good flavor of its own! I think they pretty much exist independently of one another now. The smell that comes from Indian restaurants or homes where Indian food has been cooked (including my own) comes from the frying of curry leaves in very hot oil. While the smell can be overpowering, the taste is good! Anyway, I took this picture because I had, at that time, a small curry leaf tree as a houseplant.

For me, one of the highlights was a greenhouse entirely dedicated to Fougères (Ferns).

Of course there were orchids.

I can't remember what the exact name of the greenhouse was, but there were collections of plants typically used as houseplants, and their relatives, planted to grow as they would in the wild. This included begonias and members of the Gesneriaceae family (which includes African violets and Streptocarpus).

I particularly liked this polka-dot begonia.

Houseplants not in a house.

One of many weird cacti.

Living stones, members of the genus Lithops in the family Aizoaceae. I believe they are native to South Africa. These succulents disguise themselves from herbivores by growing close to the ground, visible most of the year only as two succulent, bulbous leaves that resemble (to the eyes of herbivores) stones on the ground. Once a year, the leaves grow tall and, from the widening space between them, a stem protrudes, reaching for the sky. Honestly, it looks more than a little obscene! But then, after a time, that stalk blooms, a lovely flower visible in the sign (the picture within the above picture.) They can be kept as houseplants; I had one in a window display at the place I was working in 2009 and I was very proud when, under my care, it not only lived but also flowered.

I made this picture small because it is ugly, but it illustrates a really interesting concept. The pinkish things above the branch are pieces of a flower being carried by ants. Many species of ants are farmers, a concept that stretches the limits of what most people think ant intelligence can include. These ants harvest pieces of leaves, flowers, or other plant matter and bring it back to their nests to feed the thing they are actually farming - fungus. The specifics of this farming are fascinating, but perhaps not for this post. I took a video of this, but I haven't figured out how to upload and embed that, and besides, the lighting isn't very good. In real life it was much more beautiful. Just imagine delicate, fluttering pieces of flower petals drifting, in a line, down a tree branch; the image beautified further by your knowledge of the intelligent social behavior of the tiny, barely-visible beings carrying the petals.

The pictures and video of the ants are all I took at the Insectarium, partly because my camera was running out of room and partly because the lighting wasn't that great for pictures. The insects were behind glass, so my pictures would have shown you nothing but the reflection of the camera flash.

After a trip to the gift shop and seeing that the café was really closed, I left the garden. I was starving. I had written down the names and addresses of some famous poutine places in the city, but I was too hungry to try to find them. I had seen a sign advertising poutine at a hot dog place down the road from the Jardin Botanique, so I went there.

The highlight of my visit to the hot dog and poutine restaurant was that I ordered my food and conversed with the clerk entirely in French.

From here, I went to Mont Royal, which another post will cover.

For more pictures of my trip, including of the Jardin Botanique, visit my Picasa album Canadian Adventure 2009.

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