Go to Phipps for respite from winter cold

Credit: Brandon Hong/ Credit: Brandon Hong/

Snowmageddon is finally here: the strange and unseasonably warm and sunny weather finally gave way to the menacing cold. As winter continues to cover campus in a sheet of ice, and Mother Nature whirls flurries of snow through the air and into our faces, it’s hard to remember the colors and aromas of a blossoming springtime. But trust me, not all hope is lost! Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden’s most recent exhibit, the Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show, promises sights and smells from a warm, tropical destination.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden is home to a large assortment of permanent plant and flower gardens, as well as interchanging seasonal exhibits from a variety of artists and curators. Current seasonal exhibits include Tropical Forest Congo, Garden Railroad, and an outdoor Friday Nights of Winter Lights display.

Just in time to cure the winter blues, the Conservatory reopened its permanent Bonsai exhibits with the addition of various types of orchids to create The Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show. This exhibit, designed by the Phipps staff, has been previously displayed, and never fails to draw a crowd. The bonsai are one of the Conservatory’s most famous displays, and the orchids are a staff favorite.

The first part of the exhibit is the large bonsai display. The tropical bonsai on display at Phipps are smaller versions of their larger, naturally occuring cousins. The trees may be smaller, but are no less beautiful and impressive. Some of the tropical bonsai on display include traditional Japanese Mock-Oranges, as well as more rare Elephant Trees. Originally from Japan, the bonsai tree (which in Japanese means “tray planting”) has served as a longtime inspiration and art form, one captured beautifully in the exhibit. Artists from all over the world “train” bonsai to form into different shapes and designs. Information about the types of bonsai, as well as how they are trained to take on different shapes, can be found on plaques around the display. Ranging from tall, slim, and sharply slanted to short, swirled, and whimsical, the exhibit offers a wide array of shapes of trained bonsai.

As you walk further through the exhibit, the rooms exclusively full of bonsai lead the way toward several transitional areas where the bonsai and orchids intermingle in displays of beautiful contrast. Baskets full of orchids hang above displays of bonsai trees, drawing guests’ eyes up toward the ceilings, where more orchids are hung and intricately displayed. The juxtaposition of the two distinct plants is striking.

Walking further still, you come to areas exclusively filled with delicate orchids, which stand out beautifully against the minimalist backdrop of the strong bonsai and glass walls. Baskets of orchids fill the various walkways and glasshouses with color and fragrance.

Phipps presents the orchids as “the flower like no other,” and after seeing the exhibit, I find it difficult to disagree. There are thousands of orchid varieties around the world, and the exhibit is packed full of some of the best varieties available to the curators. The exhibit features over a hundred different varieties of orchids, ranging vastly in color, scent, and presentation. The largest section of the orchid display is the Barbara Tisherman Slipper Orchid collection, a carefully-crafted display hosted with the conservatory in conjunction with the Orchid Society of Western Pennsylvania.

One of the greatest parts about the Orchid and Tropic Bonsai Show is its large appeal to various types of guests. The exhibit commands the appreciation of all of its guests, whether they are bonsai enthusiasts with great eyes for beautiful detail, orchid aficionados with a gratitude for the professional curating, or college students just interested in a peaceful evening admiring what seem like a billion flowers.

Though many may not be willing to make the trek through the snow over to Phipps’ Conservatory, I do highly recommend making the journey. Step out of the icy cold and into the tranquility and serenity of The Orchid and Tropic Bonsai Show. The exhibit is on display every day from now until Sunday, Feb. 28.