Prized plants you will find in the Mediterranean room come from the world's Mediterranean regions including the coasts of California, central Chile, the western cape of South Africa and areas in western and southern Australia. These ecosystems have summers that can be desert-like with intense sunlight, low humidity and high heat. The winters in turn are mildly cool. The soil is low in organic matter and nutrients, containing rocky matter susceptible to erosion. Plants in these regions have adaptions much like desert plants that can withstand the intense dry summers. Some of our favorite herbs are native to the Mediterranean basin and are growing in this room: lavender, rosemary, common sage, thyme and bay laurel.
Humidity is high, light is filtered, and the air is filled with sounds of falling water and tropical birds. Cross over a central pond filled with Koi, goldfish, and turtles. Look around and experience three levels of vegetation. Large fig trees provide the upper canopy with fruit-bearing banana and papaya trees that reach up to the sun. A giant anthurium, a white bird of paradise and dracaenas inhabit the second story while ferns, pilea, spider plants, and peperomia cover the ground. Find the large-leaved aroid, Monstera deliciosa, climbing through the limbs of the Fiddle-leaf Fig tree. Cycads, a plant species older than the dinosaurs, also flourish in this room along with members of the Palm family, the Lady, Fishtail and Fan palm. A room lush in sounds, textures, shapes and shadows; a trip through the tropics right here in Oak Park.
The desert environment, unfamiliar to the Midwest, provides a counterpoint to the humidity of the Tropic room. Extremely dry air and wide temperature shifts push plant adaptation to its limits. Search out plants whose leaves have evolved into thorns and plants whose thick green stems carry out photosynthesis. Our exhibits of three main groups of cacti—cereus, optunia and pereskia—fascinate children and adults alike. Our distinctive collection of desert plants also features a fine display of other succulents including haworthia, kalanchoe, gasteria, crassula and succulent euphorbias. Don’t leave this room before seeing the Agaves or “Century Plants” which grow for 25 to 30 years before sending up their tall flower stalk. Look for the secluded oasis pond on the edge of the desert surrounded by olive, fig, date palm, bay, and pomegranate. And, meet the plants that eat insects. Visit our Curiosity Corner with its Venus Fly Traps, Pitcher Plants and Sun Dews.