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Orchids, Exotic Fruits & Lush Gardens at the Tropical Dream Center

By: Wendy Hively

Date Posted: 2000-11-03

The Tropical Dream Center, located inside the Okinawa Ocean Expo Park, is a beautiful oasis of tropical and subtropical plants and flowers from around the world. The natural environment of each species has been authentically recreated using greenhouses, indoor and outdoor ponds and lush gardens. The tour through the Dream Center takes you through fourteen different areas, each with its own spectacular views. Feel the cool breeze of the savanna in the Gallery-African area; walk among the mangrove plants in the Southeast Asia area or visit the Central and South American area to find the white floss-silk trees whose trunks are shaped like a Japanese sake flask.

Exotic orchids, which grow wild in many parts of the tropics, are showcased in one of three greenhouses. Varieties of orchids on display include Phalaenopsis, Vanda and Cattleya. The beautiful pink and white flowers of the Phalaenopsis orchid are called Kocho-ran in Japan because their distinctive shape resembles that of a butterfly. Vanda orchids, a unique member of the orchid family, are not grown in soil but are suspended from tree branches with their hanging roots exposed to the air. Moisture and vital nutrients needed for growth are taken directly from the air, through the roots. Their lavender color is also very striking, as there are very few shades of blue in the orchid family. The large flowers of the Cattleya orchid are colored in brilliant hues of pink, yellow and white. For this, they are known as the “queen of the orchids”. Because the orchids are grown in climate-controlled greenhouses, they can be viewed year-round.

The orchard greenhouse contains species of rare tropical fruit trees that are commonly found in India, Malaysia, South America, and Southeast Asia. The Jack Fruit tree, found in India, produces the largest fruit in the world, with each piece weighing from 30-40 kilograms. Originating in Malaysia, the Carambola tree produces bright yellow fruit that resembles a star when cut in half, hence its common name, “star-fruit”. A favorite among many visitors is the Cacao tree whose fruit contains the cacao bean, the primary ingredient found in cocoa and chocolate. Children will find the Chewing-gum tree fascinating. Chicle, taken from the bark of the tree, is the main ingredient found in chewing gum. There is an observation deck inside this greenhouse that offers a great view of these tropical fruit trees below.

The Victorian Greenhouse contains aquatic and wetland plants from Central and South America, Asia, Brazil and Africa. The Mangrove Palm, designated a natural monument, grows only on Iriomote Island in Okinawa. The massive leaves of the Amazon water lily are quite spectacular. This plant has the largest floating leaves in the world, with a diameter of around two meters. Although its leaves are smaller than the Amazon water lily, the Victoria water lily is also quite impressive. The sides of the leaves are much taller that those of the Amazon variety giving the impression that you could sit inside and float on the water. The Papyrus herb, found in the marshes of northern and central Africa, was used in ancient Egypt to make paper. Underneath the greenhouse is an aquatic tank containing plants and freshwater fish from South America.

Enjoy a view of the entire Tropical Dream Center and nearby Ie Island from the observation deck at the top of the Landmark Observatory. The spiraling, castle-like tower ascends to a height of 36 meters, providing a spectacular view of the surrounding island and crystal blue ocean.

The park is open daily from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, but is closed on Thursdays. They have extended hours from July 20-Aug 31 (8:30 am to 7:30 pm). Entrance to the main park is free. Admission to the Tropical Dream Center is Y670 for adults and Y340 for children ages six and older. Children under six are free.

Directions:To get to Ocean Expo Center, drive north on Route 58 or take the Okinawa Expressway north and exit onto Route 58 north. Turn onto Route 449 (around Nago City). Follow to Route 84 and then to Route 114. There are signs on all the roads that direct you to the park.

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