My Experience Visiting the U.S. Botanic Garden

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During my Thanksgiving break, I went to the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington D.C. I went with a couple of my friends from class and we all had a great time, despite being in the cold. When we entered the building, we were greeted by the employees. There were beautiful plants as soon as you walk through the doors and a map that leads you to the conservatory, national garden, and Bartholdi garden. My friends and I also saw one of the current exhibits called “Season’s Greenings: America’s Gardens” which is a holiday show. Inside the specific plant collections there were little sections serving as the butterfly garden, rose garden, amphitheater, and even the rain garden. There are many plants that I recognized from our lectures in class. It was interesting to see what they looked like in person. I found it divine because in the past, I’ve only seen the plants we learned in class, in pictures and movies. Seeing them in real life was so different.

When I first walked into the garden, the first plant that grabbed my attention was the chocolate tree located in the conservatory. I was able to see all the details such as the cacao pods and the actual tree. From the tree comes the flowers. The flowers are originally pollinated in the wild by tiny flies called Forcypomyia midges but here in D.C., they are hand pollinated by rubbing flowers from one cacao tree to another. The reason that I found chocolate to be so interesting is because when I went to Guatemala with my family the summer of 2017, we went to a small chocolate factory in Antigua. Back in class, our lecture 12 was on chocolate. We learned about the origin and cultivation of cacao. Cacao is a small tree native to South and Central America (specifically the tropical forests in those continents). The fruit –fruit pod—of the tree is the size of a football. I was surprised that that comparison was accurate until I saw it in person at the garden. They are greenish/yellowish large pods hanging on the trees. The reason that I found chocolate to be so interesting is because when I went to Guatemala with my family the summer of 2017, we went to a small chocolate factory in Antigua. At the factory in Antigua, I tasted what’s inside of the white cacao pod. They were bitter and not sweet at all with a subtle fruity taste. It was also slimy and tasted nothing like chocolate. I also had the opportunity to see how the cocoa was processed through a machine. In my everyday life, I use cocoa butter which is good for the body. In class, I learned that cocoa butter can be removed to make cocoa powder. The cacao tree has many other uses other than just to make chocolate. I strongly believe the tree and flower is something everyone should go check out at the garden because in our day lives, it is just a packaged good.

In the national garden I saw the butterfly garden. It was so pretty being able to watch all the butterflies wander around the area. There was a variety of flowers ranging of different shapes and sizes. This reminded me of our 25th lecture which was on flowers and Arabidopsis thaliana. In the slides, it states that butterflies are guided by sight and smell in order to get to places. Other than that, they can see red and orange flowers. Butterflies can see colors that us humans can’t see because they have a broader visible spectrum. Their range of color vision extends into the ultraviolet wavelengths and polarizes light. This is useful when it comes to pollinating the leaves of the flowers in which have special ultraviolet patters which guide the insects deep into the flower. These insects are attracted to milkweed, dill, and fennel bulbs. The flower petals are used as markers to guide pollinators such as bees and butterflies to the nectarines. The national garden has other major features such as the regional garden, rose garden, amphitheater, and the first ladies water garden.

Another type of species that I was excited to see in person was the coconut tree located in the conservatory. In person, the tree was very tall comparing to my height. When I was little, I remember going to Costa Rica with my friends and her family and seeing these trees everywhere. They ranged from different sizes (all tall mostly) and some trees were straight while others were curved. In class, I learned that these trees can grow up to 100 feet long. I have a vivid memory where if you wanted to grab a coconut, you’ll have to climb a little and use a very large machete. I did not remember what they really looked like until I went to the garden and saw them in person. In class, it was interesting learning the anatomy and structure of these trees. They have large leaves and the coconut is sphere shaped with fibrous hairs in the root system. Coconuts are drupes which means they have a hard pit inside. The white “meat” inside the coconut has the seed in which holds the root, embryo, and contains all the nutrients. Also, in class I learned that they are moved around by water dispersal. This means the fruits and/or seeds use flotation devices to travel by water. These trees are commonly found in tropical and hot areas but having these inside the garden in Washington D.C. is very convenient.

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In the desert section of the garden, I saw a species such as cactus and aloe. In class, I learned that aloe is also commonly called the burn plant. It’s medicinal as well so its very useful. Aloe has been used for thousands of years as treatments for various skin ailments. For example, it helps sunburns, rashes, burns, wounds, and scalds. The plant is dark green with long, pointy succulent leaves that contain compounds used to heal the skin. Aloe can be found in cosmetics and creams to using it straight from the plant. The plant is found in shampoos, creams, sunscreen lotions and gels, and even bath oils. One of the main reasons I chose to talk about this plant is because I have many memories with its aid. When I was little, I went to Bolivia for the whole summer. Although Bolivia was not tropical at all, the sun there was still very strong. In Bolivia we would go to these large outdoor markets called “La Cancha” and my grandma would buy the whole plant or just its leaves of aloe. We’d bring it home and she would cut open in half the leaf and use the gel to help soothe our burns that we got on our faces and even spread it all over our bodies to smoothen our skin. The smell once you open the aloe leaf was not the best but that didn’t really matter. It’s useful in our everyday lives and does wonders for us.

The third plant that I wanted to learn more about was the poinsettia hybrid. This flower caught my attention with its colors and shapes. These plants are very commonly seen throughout the holidays especially now, around Christmas. There bright colors include red, bright pink, and white. These sophisticating yet fun looking flowers were seen everywhere throughout the garden. This display is specifically located in the South Transition from the “Season’s Greenings” holiday exhibit. Poinsettias usually come with sleeves on them (normally green) but after buying them, you cannot forget to remove the sleeve. They need a lot of air circulation to breath and survive. The wild Christmas poinsettia is difficult to locate in the United States, so curators such as a man named William McLaughlin decided to breed his own. The wildflowers are seen at the garden and is tall with leggy bushes and bract cluster features isolated at the end of its long branches. At the garden, there are a different variety of poinsettias called dogwood poinsettias that McLaughlin grew on his own. He said it’s one of the rarest plants in the building. The exhibit also includes now-dated urban poinsettias with varieties that have advanced throughout the years. For example, one type is called the Annette Hegg. It’s one of the first self-branching type of flower. The second variety is the oak leaf which is one of its first to hold its own leaves. But the most important is the hybrid. Poinsettias come in all varieties and show beauty.

The last plant I learned and saw at the Botanical Garden is the snakeroot. It is a medicinal plant along with aloe. The origin of this plant is from India but can be found from Quebec to Georgia and even west to Texas. In class, I learned that this plant is the source of the drug reserpine and the other alkaloids that are used in the treatment is for hypertension. Snakeroot is also used as a tranquilizer to treat schizophrenia. Two parts of the plant is especially used for daily uses. The root can become root tea for diarrhea, fever, and treatment of kidney stones. The root is used to treat snake bites. On the contrary, the leaves can be burnt, and its smoke is used to revive unconscious people. Although this plant has its benefits, it still has negative effects such as sever vomiting, constipation, liver failure, and even death.

One of the obstacles that we faced was the timing, we thought that it would take about 30-45 hours to get there, but it actually took about an hour and fifteen minutes. We got lost and there were so many people so that didn’t help either. Luckily, the garden didn’t close till five, so we had some time to go explore the entire garden and look at the exhibits outside as well. The garden was so beautiful and not how I expected. What made the wait time and obstacles not seem so bad was that the garden was free with no charge, so we could’ve brought as many people as we’d like. The visit to the garden was very worth going because I had the opportunity to learn new species, look at what the species looked like in person from class, and it brought back old memories that I once experienced in person. Overall, the trip to the Botanical Garden was a lot of fun because I not only got to see these flowers in person, but also my friends and I were able to teach each other interesting facts about these plants that we learned from class. Each of us had a great time teaching each other everything and looking thoroughly at all the species at its beauty of different colors and looks.

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