Wednesday, March 25, 2009 - 11:59

A vividly exotic plant is wowing springtime visitors in the biggest greenhouse in the world, the Rainforest Biome at Cornwall's Eden Project.

The pale green hanging jade vine, which can grow up to 100m in length in its native Philippines, can be seen among the lush foliage in various parts of the Biome. It is expected to stay in flower until Easter.

The rare and endangered plant represents a fascinating story of pollination. In the wild it is pollinated by bats, but as there are none in the Biome, supervisor John Nichol has been mimicking their action with his hands.

He explains: "In the wild, as the bat hangs upside down to drink nectar from the flower, another part of the flower deposits pollen on the back of its head. As it moves on, that pollen is deposited on the female part of the next flower and pollination occurs. This is one of the novel feats of nature.”

Provided the pollination is successful, the jade vine could produce fruit that grow up to the size of melons.

The jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) is a member of the same family as peas and beans. Its tangled woody branches grow flower spikes known as racemes and it is from these that the characteristic aquamarine flowers bloom.

It is a climbing plant that grows up through the forest canopy to reach the light but is being threatened in its natural habitats by deforestation.

The jade vine isn’t the only plant in the Rainforest Biome coming into its own this spring. Jackfruit, thought to be the largest fruit in the world borne by trees, are growing in the Biome for the first time in three years and orchids planted in the winter are flowering throughout the Biome.

Following the cold winter, spring flowers in Eden’s Mediterranean Biome and outdoor landscape have bloomed spectacularly as the weather has got warmer.

Multicoloured swathes of tulips are already flowering alongside the daffodils indoors with hyacinths, peach blossom and blooming Mediterranean shrubs adding to the colour.

Eden’s outdoor daffodil crop has bloomed spectacularly, complemented by a selection of crocuses and spring flowering shrubs. Flowering soon will be a ribbon of thousands of grape hyacinths tracing a blue path through the grass on the roof of the Link building between the Biomes.

Outdoors in April and May, a selection of English wild flowers including bluebells, campions and violets will be blooming. This late spring period is also the peak flowering time for many plants in the Mediterranean Biome, including the beds of poppies in the California region.