Trade winter blues for tropical plants at URI’s Horridge Memorial Conservatory

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Desert garden, tropical fruit crops, massive flower that smells of death

KINGSTON, R.I. – January 21, 2010 – Looking to get away from the winter weather but can’t afford the airfare or the time to travel south? Then why not get a taste of the Tropics without even leaving Rhode Island?

The Matthew Horridge Memorial Conservatory at the University of Rhode Island houses a stunning display of tropical plants that are certain to warm up any winter visitor. Named for a URI botany student who died unexpectedly in 2003, the Conservatory includes plants from a wide variety of warm and tropical ecosystems.

According to Gabrielle Torphy, who maintains the plants, the Conservatory was renovated and designed by friends of Matthew Horridge. It includes a desert environment where a variety of cactus, agaves, palms and succulents grow, as well as a display of tropical food crops, including banana, fig, olive, coffee, papaya and pomegranate plants.

Perhaps the most famous plant in the collection is the Titan Arum, a large plant native to Sumatra that blooms for only two days a year. Its single maroon flower is about four feet tall and two feet around and smells like a decomposing body. The plant was acquired for the Conservatory in July and is expected to bloom for the first time in the spring of 2011.

Also in the Conservatory, a water garden with fish displays tropical plants found in moist environments, and a bog garden includes mostly native carnivorous plants donated by the Rhode Island Carnivorous Plant Society. Many other tropical plants are scattered throughout the greenhouse where the Conservatory is located. Those in bloom this month include bird of paradise, pink powder puff, a Brazilian orchid, a succulent from the African desert, and many more. All of the plants are clearly labeled.

Torphy said that the Conservatory is regularly visited by botany classes and elementary school groups on field trips. URI students in drawing classes often bring their sketchbooks to draw the plants, and she hopes to display some of their art in a nearby hallway.

The Conservatory and two adjacent greenhouses used for plant research are open free to the public from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is the third large greenhouse in the URI greenhouse complex at the corner of Upper College Road and Flagg Road on the Kingston Campus. Visitors can enter the complex from Upper College Road.

For more information, contact Gabrielle Torphy at