British Columbia·Photos

Bloedel Conservatory welcomes new, big, blossoming plants

For a short time only, Vancouver’s Bloedel Conservatory is home to a stand of endangered tree echium, or snow tower flower. The plants, native to the Canary Islands, have a two-year lifespan culminating in a four-and-a-half metre high tower of flowers.

Endangered Canary Island plants nearly 5 metres tall

The Bloedel Conservatory's tree echium were over three metres tall on April 15. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

For a short time only, Vancouver's Bloedel Conservatory is home to a stand of endangered tree echium, or snow tower flower. The plants, native to the Canary Islands, have a two-year lifespan culminating in a four-and-a-half metre high tower of flowers.

Echium pininana looks like a tower of flowers

Echium pininana, also known as pine echium, tower of jewels and giant viper's bugloss, is a variety of echium native to La Palma in the Canary Islands, where it has become an endangered species.

Readers will be forgiven for comparing this giant, phallus-shaped, plant to the Bloedel Conservatory's last flowering sensation — the titan arum or corpse flower.

The Bloedel Conservatory's tree echiums tower over Vancouver Park Board marketing coordinator Emily Schultz. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The two plants' actual similarities (one smells like rotting meat while the other's flowers are mild and fragrant) are few except for being difficult to grow in the cold.

They grow natively only on the island of La Palma

The tree echium features hundreds of tiny, white, flowers while blooming. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)
The Bloedel Conservatory's crop of five flowering tree echium as seen on Tuesday, April 17. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Snow towers smell pleasant. Corpse flowers don't

"Tree echium are quite different from that plant [titan arum] but they are similar in that they're rarely cultivated in Canada. They don't do well with snow and ice," said Emily Schultz of the Vancouver Park Board.

In Vancouver's climate, gardeners hoping to grow snow towers will require winter protection or plan to bring them inside to defend against snow and cold.

Though rare, a Victoria gardener and plant blogger does appear to have grown several outdoors in that city's somewhat milder climate.

Even the conservatory's volunteers can't resist the urge to capture a memory of the flowering giants. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Bloedel's snow towers were grown from seeds

In their first year of life, tree echium grow their first silver, hairy, spear-like leaves. As they reach maturity in their second year, the plant's signature flowering spike of small, white, bell-shaped flowers can reach upwards of four-and-a-half metres in height.

Snow towers are biennial

The Bloedel's specimens began blossoming on April 12. Their flowers signal that they are nearing the end of their life cycle.

"They'll bloom for up to four weeks before scattering their seeds and dying," Schultz said.

If you can't make it to the Bloedel Conservatory in time, the Vancouver Park Board has planted more tree echiums outdoors in Morton Park, VanDusen Botanical Garden and Queen Elizabeth Park. They are expected to flower in May.

The Bloedel Conservatory is also home to a variety of tropical birds. This one is named Kramer. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

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