Phipps presents vibrant show

The Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show at Phipps Conservatory features a vibrant display of orchids. (credit: Catherine Spence/) The Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show at Phipps Conservatory features a vibrant display of orchids. (credit: Catherine Spence/)

Trunk splitters, root hooks, and concave cutters, oh my! The Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show, which opened Jan. 12 at Phipps Conservatory, offers guests the chance to do much more than just observe orchids and bonsai trees. The exhibit includes information on the history and location of these plants, the science and techniques behind how they are grown, and opportunities to grow your own at Phipps.

Bonsai is the Japanese art of training small trees to take on the shape and style of their larger counterparts that occur in nature. The word “bonsai” can be broken down into “bon,” which means “tray or lowsided pot,” and “sai,” which means “a plant or plantings.” These miniature trees emulate some trees that have spent hundreds of years in the wind, and others that stand upright with twisting, far-reaching, above-ground roots.

The “Sunken Garden” room is filled with a variety of miniature bonsai trees, including the willow fig leaf, Japanese pittosporum, and Chinese banyan, among many others. The small trees all look vastly different and give guests the chance to see different styles of bonsai trees up close. Bonsai artists in the area worked on some of the trees, other trees were gifts to Phipps, and some were used in previous exhibits. The variation in size, style, age, and technique makes exploring the room both educational and entertaining. The final part of the exhibit explains the basics of bonsai, such as what tools are used and how the trees are made to look the way they do.

The orchids in the show are spread far and wide throughout Phipps. Some are integrated into existing exhibits in the form of hanging baskets and small planters. Others are planted directly into the exhibits, along with informational and educational placards to teach guests more about these brightly colored plants. For example, did you know that orchids grow on every continent except Antarctica? Or that they are the largest and most varied family of flowering plants in the world? Or that there are over 30,000 known species of orchids?

Laboratory equipment is on display in order to show patrons how the plants are engineered to have different colors, be different sizes, or even bloom in different shapes. The combination of home-grown and lab-grown orchids exposes guests to a wide variety of the plants in many different contexts.

The bright pinks, purples, and yellows of the orchids juxtapose nicely with the rich greens and browns of the bonsai trees. Just as the colors complement each other, so do the different techniques for growing each type of plant.

The choice to combine these two exhibits into one show makes for an educational and visually appealing stroll through Phipps Conservatory. And should either art form interest you, the classes for growing bonsai and tips for growing orchids offer guests the chance to engage more fully with the exhibit. Overall, the show has something to offer everyone — be it gardening tips, scientific exploration, or just the opportunity to admire beautiful plants.