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Superheroes: the RBG Edition

March 11, 2024

By Barb McKean, Director of Education, Royal Botanical Gardens

Do you have a favourite superhero in the Marvel Universe? From pre-World War 2 comic book characters to 21st century media stars, these superheroes have special powers that are the basis for their superhuman feats and their super-popularity today. While these special powers may spring from mutations, in biological terms we can call them adaptations.

  • Group of three adults reading an exhibit panel about Corpse Flowers
  • Aerial view looking into the Nature's Superheroes exhibit. Children are engaging with RBG staff members and learning about the exhibit.
  • Tardigrades hanging from the ceiling above a large crowd watching a presentation by RBG staff

Local “Superpowered” Species

In real life, you don’t have to look too far to find plant and animal species with special adaptations that help them survive in challenging environments. RBG’s winter exhibit delves into the world of Nature’s Superheroes: Life at the Limits. Developed by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, this exhibit focuses on animals and plants that live in some of our planet’s most harsh and challenging places. From tiny microscopic creatures to huge marine mammals, and from the tropics to the North and South Poles, this immersive, interactive exhibit will help you see nature in a whole new way.

Our daily programming will introduce you to species with superhero capacities that live right here at RBG. You may even have encountered some of them in our gardens and nature sanctuaries.

White Pine

Did you know that RBG is home to Resilient Rot-resistant Titans that share adaptations with Marvel’s Wolverine? He reached superhero status for his long life and selfhealing abilities, and these Titans (aka, our giant-sized, ancient White Pine trees) cope with intense weather, fire and pests and despite these challenges, live for centuries. White Pines can also heal their own wounds (and ours!) with their antiseptic sticky sap.

pin branches on tree with long needles
White Pine (Pinus strobus)

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

Look around between May and September to spot our Nectar-powered Migrators. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are small but mighty seasonal residents who make epic migrations between their breeding territories here and winter homes in Central America. While it can take them several weeks to make the 4,500-kilometre journey, one of their superhero capacities is the ability to fly non-stop for over 2,000 km!

Ruby Throated Hummingbird in flight
Ruby Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Virginia Creeper

Climbing Creeper sprouts from a small berry that’s fallen from the tree canopy to the forest floor. Also known as Virginia Creeper, its super-climbing powers are found in hundreds of modified flower stalks that end in tiny adhesive pads. These tendrils sprout along the stems and are always ready to cling to trees or buildings. While they are slower climbers than Spiderman, these green superheroes reach the tree tops by creeping ahead several metres each year.

Virginia Creeper
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Snapping Turtles

Complete with their hard protective shield, RBG’s Armoured Scavengers live long lives, and three decades ago were found to be more densely populated in our wetlands than anywhere else on the planet. Sadly, Snapping Turtle armour can’t protect this species from vehicles and water pollution, and their numbers have crashed. These resilient reptiles overwinter in our wetland sanctuaries by chilling on the marsh floor and slowing their breathing and movement, but maintaining an air supply by breathing through their butt – definitely the most unusual superhero trait of all!

Snapping turtle among plants in a garden

Don’t Miss the Exhibit!

Thousands of species of living things call RBG home, and each has its own amazing adaptations that help it to survive. Understanding these special adaptations helps us see how important it is to protect and restore habitat for native species. Nature’s Superheroes is open until April 21 – come and explore a planet full of amazing life, and find out how you can support our own local superheroes.

  • Pink axolotl in an aquarium tank
  • two visitors looking at larger than life tardigrade model
  • two visitors looking at the corpse flower model in the exhibit

More from the RBG Blog

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