Monday, July 23, 2012

Snorkeling In The Gardens

The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai has a great new garden that, along with the octopus orchid in the previous blog post, might make you do a double-take after your snorkel trip. Although it is definitely a garden of terrestrial plants, it looks like it's been lifted right out of the ocean from one of Key Largo's spectacular coral reefs. The new garden goes by a number of names including "aquascape garden," "undersea garden," "coral reef garden," and "totally awesome garden" but we'll go with aquascape garden for simplicity in this post. Coral stone forms the foundation of the garden and along with the plants, which are meant to resemble a diversity of aquatic organisms found in reefs, there are a number of sea creatures interspersed throughout.

Our new "reef!"
Can you spot a few of the sea creatures?
Veronika, our grounds manager, came up with the idea for this garden a couple years ago and began trying out different plants and rock designs by the pool. About a year ago, we found out that Keri Leymaster had put together an "aquascape" garden at Discovery Cove in Orlando. Keenly interested to see the garden for some inspiration and ideas, Veronika and her husband René visited Keri and the garden on their way up north for vacation. Keri kindly took time to give them a tour of the garden, which helped Veronika form a vision for what was taking shape at Kona Kai.

Part of Keri's garden at Discovery Cove.
After visiting Discovery Cove, Veronika gained confidence that she could make her vision a reality and quietly but excitedly made plans for the garden at Kona Kai. Whenever she was out, she took notes on any plants that reminded her of something found underwater, eventually coming up with a great list of plants, then narrowing them down based on functionality (e.g. how big they grow, what conditions they prefer). With all the pieces in place, Veronika looked for just the right opportunity to put things into action, which came last month while Joe and Ronnie were away for vacation. During this time, she and her husband RenĂ© went all-out - designing, moving big rocks, buying plants, coaxing sea creatures onto the land to take up a new residence, etc. - installing the rest of what you see today in the aquascape garden. One lucky family of guests, some of whom were staying in the Pineapple Suite with a front-row seat on the porch, was staying on the property during the building of the garden, often coming out to enjoy watching the Gardens evolve in dramatic and beautiful ways before their eyes.

The Harris family witnessed Gardens history in the making during their stay.
Below are a couple of up-close teaser photos of what you might see while "snorkeling" around the aquascape garden. Check out the Aquascape Garden photo album on our Facebook page for more pictures as well as comments on each (including plant names) by Veronika, the master aquascaper herself. While you're there, check out the rest of our page and "Like" us if you haven't already for more great tropical pictures and to keep up with not only what's going on in the Gardens, but at the Resort as well.

Pretty "totally awesome," right? Be sure to take a "swim" and explore the aquascape garden during your next visit and learn more about the plants on a tour with me!

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Octopus Orchid And The Orchid House

One of the hidden gems here at Kona Kai is the Orchid House, for which Ronnie (Joe's wife) has been collecting orchids for many years. We currently have about 250 orchids in the house and it's fun to visit because you never know what will be blooming next and there's almost always something new to see from week to week.

Follow the pink brick road (in my best munchkin voice), not to find a wizard...

...but to find Kona Kai's "Emerald City" in the orchid house, the way to which is quite free of flying monkeys and wicked witches, I assure you.

Definitely nothing like Kansas and fortunately the flowers don't make you fall asleep.

This past week, we had a special surprise in the Orchid House with the native octopus orchid (Prosthechea cochleata) coming into bloom. The flower gets its name from its thin tentacle-like petals and its upside-down orientation. Whereas most orchids have their labellum (the highly modified "lip" petal) on the bottom of the flower, the octopus orchid has it on the top and it happens to resemble an octopus head.

Octopus orchid in the Orchid House.

I had never seen anything like it and the resemblance is so striking, I actually thought the plant had bloomed live octopuses until Veronika informed me otherwise.

It's a great specimen in our collection since we are so close to the ocean; if you're lucky you might see both the orchid and the cephalopod equivalent while on a snorkel or dive trip during your stay here!

Mucilage extracted from the pseudobulbs (the enlarged storage sections of the stems) of this orchid have been used as a natural adhesive, so if you're prone to breaking things, you might consider keeping a few of these around. The people of Belize must really enjoy this bloom because the octopus orchid is their national flower...either that or they break lots of things.

The octopus orchid is only one of many beautiful blooms to see in the orchid house, so be sure to check it out during your next stay either on your own or on a tour with me! Here are a few other orchids I found in bloom today for you to enjoy:

Rick Hederstrom
Associate Director