The Epiphyte House was constructed in the early 1900s by famed greenhouse manufacturer, Lord & Burnham. This greenhouse originally belonged to Miriam, who was H.J. Lutcher Stark’s mother. It was located adjacent to the Carriage House at the W.H. Stark House until Mr. Stark moved this greenhouse to Shangri La in the 1940s, about the same time that the two Exhibition Greenhouses were built.
Many unusual plants reside in the Epiphyte House, in particular epiphytes, plants that grow on another plant or structure non-parasitically. Epiphytes are also known as “air” plants and include many species of orchids, bromeliads, ferns, lichens, and mosses.
A common epiphyte to the Gulf Coast region of southeast Texas that can be found on display in the Epiphyte House is Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides). While it looks and feels similar to moss, this plant is, in fact, a flowering bromeliad.
One semi-epiphytic plant of particular note growing in the Epiphyte House is a climbing orchid, well-known to those who bake or cook – Vanilla (Vanilla pompona subsp. grandiflora). While not the commercially-grown species native to Mexico, Vanilla planifolia, this species has a similar growth habit with slightly larger flowers than Vanilla planifolia.
Vanilla extract is made from the mature vanilla beans or pods. From pollination to maturity, it can take anywhere from 6 to 14 months before mature vanilla pods are ready for harvesting. A lengthy four-step process of killing (heating or freezing), sweating, slow drying, and conditioning the pods takes place in order to get a product ready to be made into vanilla extract.
The Epiphyte House is also home to a wide range of sub-tropical and tropical orchids that bloom throughout the year and include species from our historic orchid collection dating back to H.J. Lutcher Stark’s grandmother, Francis Ann Lutcher. The best known is Bowring’s Cattleya (Guarianthe bowringiana), this orchid produces beautiful sprays of purple flowers in large clusters every fall.
A stroll through the Epiphyte House is certain to result in the discovery of an unusual epiphyte, beautiful flowers, colorful foliage, and, occasionally, a delicately fragrant orchid. The Epiphyte House is certainly worth a visit any time of year.