The annual Marjorie McNeely Conservatory holiday flower show at Como Park in St. Paul is underway and it features holiday poinsettias you are unlikely to see in the grocery store or local flower shop. This year’s show highlights plants in autumnal oranges and yellows as well as deep reds.
First, some poinsettia basics. The holiday poinsettias we decorate our homes with today are vastly different from the 10-foot-tall plants that are native to Mexico. And, what we think of as the flowers of the plant are actually brachts—modified leaves that color up. (The botanical flowers are the tiny dot-like structures in the center of the plant.) Generally poinsettias come in shades of red, white or pink, with some variegated types. But this year the staff at the conservatory went a little wild, giving the conservatory a dusky, sophisticated look. Accented with coleus, rosemary, flowering hibiscus and variegated sweet flag (Acorus ‘Ogon’), the new colors bathe the conservatory in a light reflecting glow.
There are four main holiday poinsettias in the display:
This was my favorite of the unusual poinsettias. The color is somewhere between pink and orange, with a dash of cream thrown in. The brachts really do remind you of fall leaves.
Yellow is my favorite color and this poinsettia is a creamy, lemon shade. It has the same cream undertone that is in Autumn Leaves, so they complement each other in the display.
This new cultivar from the plant-breeding company Selecta has the traditional, bright red color of poinsettias, but with a much more rounded leaf shape. The name was inspired by the German holiday poem, The Christmas Mouse, by storyteller James Krüss. (My attempt to find an English translation came up empty, but you can listen to the poem in German here.) The plant is as cute as any fictional mouse, with rounded, upright brachts. If you can find one in a store, it would make a fun host or hostess gift.
This plant has the traditional pointy leaves but in a new color. It’s bright orange, making it an option for those who like to start their holiday decorating just after Halloween.
Another creative touch from the conservatory staff is the use of shaped rosemary plants, which look like little pines amid the holiday poinsettias. Of course there are bigger trees, lights and a few tropical flowers. It’s a magical place to go around the holidays.
Because of the animals at the Como Zoo and our rising case numbers of Covid-19 in Minnesota, the folks at Como have instituted some covid protocols, which make visiting the conservatory a safer experience. You must book a time to enter (to prevent over-crowding) and you must wear a mask while on the grounds. Entry to the conservatory and zoo is free, but donations are welcome (and much deserved!)
In addition to the holiday flower show, the rest of the conservatory is a respite from our cold and snow. After walking around the main rooms, be sure to head down the hall to see the bonsai room that overlooks the lovely Japanese garden at Como Park. I make a visit to the conservatory most Januaries to get some humidity! You can read about the history of the conservatory here.