Tucson’s dry desert climate presents a specific set of parameters for gardening, and success usually comes to those that work with plants that are drought-tolerant and heat-resistant.

However, a tropical greenhouse at the Tucson Botanical Gardens offers an opportunity to grow a diverse array of plants that are typically found in more humid environments.

Michael Chamberland, director of horticulture at Tucson Botanical Gardens, says this tropical greenhouse “is home to orchids, bromeliads, and various tropical plants and flowers.”

Chamberland says some orchids are epiphytes, meaning they grow with the roots exposed to the environment, and in the greenhouse they “are grown much the way they would be growing in the wild.”

He points out one orchid growing on piece of bark, “just hanging there. It has almost no soil on it.”

Chamberland says orchids are some of the most intriguing of all flowering plants, with amazing adaptations, variations and survival tactics among species.

Bromeliads, which Chamberland points out are related to the pineapple, are also grown throughout the greenhouse. “They are also part of the community of plants that will grow perched up on tropical trees.”

Chamberland says summers are extreme in Tucson and the temperature within the greenhouse is maintained low with evaporative cooling, where the plants are protected from the dry wind.

“This is a controlled environment where we create an alternative to the desert environment so that we can grow plants that people would otherwise not see.”

We take a tour with the TBG Director of Horticulture, Michael Chamberland, and learn about how moisture-loving plants such as orchids and bromeliads are grown in our desert environment.