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Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 12:01 am

Orchids, the remedy for too much winter

Springfield and St. Louis host February flower shows

The Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis offers a warm respite from winter’s chill. The geodesic dome houses more than 2,800 plants in a lowland tropical rain forest covering a half acre.


Surrounding yourself with the sight and scent of orchids can be a sure cure for that case of cabin fever you’ve been harboring since the holidays. But you don’t have to hop on a plane to Hawaii to feel better.

Relief is as close as the botanical gardens in St. Louis and Springfield. Add some of the gardens’ other flowers and plants, and the remedy may last until spring rolls into town.

Hundreds of blooming orchids are on display at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s annual orchid show from Feb. 1 to March 23. The Prairie State Orchid Society showcases members’ prized specimens at Springfield’s Washington Park Botanical Garden Feb. 8 and 9. While the local show is free, the price for the St. Louis show is $5 plus the $8 garden admission price for adults.

That money is well worth spending for a glimpse of “one of the world’s premier orchid collections,” according to the Missouri garden’s website. Even if you aren’t an orchid lover, you likely will enjoy this taste of the tropics in creative displays at the St. Louis show.

Last year’s theme transported visitors to Madagascar and this year the show focuses on South America. Katie O’Sullivan, public information officer for MOBOT, says the horticultural staff got inspiration from Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx, and the show features water, vibrant colors and a modernist touch.

Included are more than 500 of the 7,000 orchids in the garden’s permanent collection. Brazil figures in the collection’s history as well. The wife of President Grant’s minister to Brazil gave orchids he collected to Henry Shaw in 1876, and the collection grew from that. Garden staff later began propagating hybrids and gathering orchids from field stations in tropical countries and from gifts.

Today the Missouri Botanical Garden has one of the largest collections in the United States, including multiple varieties, sizes and bloom colors. Some of the orchids are on view throughout the year in the garden’s Ridgeway Center atrium and the geodesic Climatron, but the special show in the Ridgeway Center’s Orthwein Floral Display Hall allows visitors to wander pathways and view the flowers in unique arrangements.

Members of the Prairie State Orchid Society will display their prized varieties in the annual show at the Washington Park Botanical Garden in Springfield this Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 8 and 9. Visitors also will be able to buy orchids and supplies for growing them.


The annual show usually draws 50,000 visitors. “We do three flower shows a year, and the orchid show is one of the most popular,” O’Sullivan says. She warns it can be crowded so going early in the day or during the week may be a good idea.

If Orthwein Hall gets too jammed, you can get a warm weather preview in MOBOT’s three indoor conservatories. The 70-foot-tall Climatron, the world’s first geodesic dome greenhouse, features 2,800 plants in a lowland tropical rain forest. The average 85 percent humidity is so great, in fact, that it can take your breath away and frizz your hair when you enter.

Next door the Shoenberg Temperate House displays species native to five areas of the world known for their Mediterranean-type climate, including a display of plants from the Bible. In another section dedicated to northern Asia and southeastern United States, visitors can see carnivorous plants, a display sure to intrigue children.

The third indoor conservatory, the Linnean House, underwent renovations in 2011 and showcases the garden’s camellia collection, with blooms peaking in February. Some of the garden’s citrus plants also spend their winter in the building.

O’Sullivan advises checking the MOBOT website to see if any outside plants are blooming, should there be a warm spell. Even if it is chilly, the Japanese and Chinese gardens, outside sculptures and the grounds themselves can be lovely to view.

Closer to home, the Prairie State Orchid Society’s annual show and sale will offer several hundred orchids for viewing or buying at the Washington Park Botanical Garden Feb. 8 and 9. The society has sponsored the event for more than 30 years, according to member Carol Kolhauser.

The garden’s dome will house members’ plants, which will be judged in various categories. Members also will offer more than 300 plants of different species and hybrids for sale in the back room. In addition, visitors with questions about growing orchids or interested in re-potting ones they own will find experienced growers eager to help.

The Missouri Botanical Garden’s annual orchid show began Feb. 1, runs until March 23 and features the chance for visitors to get a close look at the 500 orchids on display.

“You get more of a variety (of expertise) than you normally get here in town because so many experts will be together at the same time,” Kolhauser says of the show and sale.

As with the St. Louis garden, Washington Park’s also displays other plants in a tropical setting that can lift you out of the winter doldrums, even if just for a few hours.

The Missouri Botanical Garden is at 4344 Shaw Blvd. in St. Louis and open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information is available at www.mobot.org or 1-800-642-8842.

The Springfield orchid show is from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8, and Sunday, Feb. 9, at the Washington Park Botanical Garden, 1740 Fayette Street. For more information, call 217-546-4116 or go to http://tinyurl.com/kvqmtzq.

Mary Bohlen is a freelance writer and editor in Springfield and an emeritus communication faculty member at the University of Illinois Springfield. She and Mary C. Galligan of Chicago alternate monthly columns about Midwestern travel for Illinois Times.

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