In Oakland’s Lakeside Garden is a special collection of Vireyas, which are a subsection of Rhododendrons. The flowers are big and showy and in many bright colors. Some of the Vireyas are even epiphytes — plants that grow attached to trees and other plants. Epiphytes get their moisture and nutrition from the air, from falling rain, and from debris that settles on them from the forest canopy above.
Vireyas, which come from the Philippines, Indonesia and New Guinea and neighboring areas, created quite a sensation when seven types of them were brought to England in the 19th Century. Using greenhouses to grow these showy tropical plants, enthusiasts quickly created about 500 hybrids of Vireyas.
But World War I broke out and made it very difficult for people in England to afford and keep up greenhouses, as glass was expensive and needed for the war effort. During that time, most of those 500 hybrid Vireyas vanished. At war’s end, there were just eight left.
Later, tougher species of rhododendrons were introduced from China, the Himalayas (they’re the national flower of Nepal) and other areas, and Vireyas, which require special care to grow, became less popular.
Oakland is just temperate enough to have an open-air Vireya garden. It does have a roof but is not a closed, climate-controlled greenhouse.