Step into the tropics during Phipps annual orchid, bonsai show |
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Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens knows how to brighten up a cold winter’s day in Pittsburgh.

Its annual Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show, “Eye Candy” — which opens Jan. 12 and runs through March 10 — is a treat for the senses, spotlighting more than 1,000 orchid blooms and some of the finest examples of tropical bonsai trees in Phipps’ collection.

Phipps’ display horticulturists Kevin Haughey, Bonsai and Japanese garden specialist, and Katherine Schuller, orchid specialist, along with Jordyn Melino, exhibit coordinator, designed the show focusing on orchids that not only look beautiful, but also are pleasantly fragrant.

“Not all orchids are scented, and some have scents that are not so sweet,” said Schuller. “We’re not featuring them here, only sweet smells.”

Sweet scents

Among the scented blooms displayed in the Palm Court and Sunken Garden will be Wilsonara Eye Candy “Pinkie,” Oncidium Sharry Baby “Sweet Fragrance,” Phalaenopsis varieties and Oncidium Aka Baby “Raspberry Chocolate,” among others.

In Phipps’ dedicated Orchid Room, a selection of miniature orchids, exotic hybrids and a variety from the Barbara Tisherman Slipper Orchid collection will be on view. Many of the smaller orchid plants will be available for sale during Phipps’ spring bulb sale, Schuller said.

One of the highlights of the exhibit will be Phipps’ own Frank Sarris Orchid, named in honor of the late founder of Pittsburgh-based Sarris Candies. The Phalaenopsis orchid features a white background with red and pink candy stripes and can be found in the Orchid Room next to a plaque about Sarris, who was a trustee and benefactor of Phipps.

Sarris orchid expected to bloom

The Sarris orchid is expected to bloom sometime during the show, Schuller said, at which time it may be temporarily moved to a more prominent place in the conservatory.

She has been taking care of Phipps’ orchid collection for nearly two years, rotating the plants housed in the conservatory greenhouse according to four different climate zones.

“I bring an orchid out almost every day – and take one back,” she said. “Some orchid blooms last only one day; others bloom for three or four months.” She relies on help from a few members of the Orchid Society of Western Pennsylvania who volunteer at Phipps.

Haughey, who has been with Phipps nearly 23 years, cares for the conservatory’s bonsai collection that includes some trees that are more than 60 years old. They require pruning and shaping as they grow and are grouped into three varieties: hardy, semi-hardy and tropical bonsai.

Bonsai artistry

“The artistry of the bonsai plants is in making them aesthetically pleasing, so they look like an old tree with old plant character,” he said. “It isn’t how old the tree is, it’s how old it looks that’s important.”

Bonsai will be displayed in the Serpentine Room throughout the show, where new miniature mudmen figures – small clay figurines popularized in ancient China to lend scale to miniature landscapes artisans created – will be placed within the collection.

This year’s Orchid and Tropical Bonsai Show is extended for two weeks longer than past exhibits, Schuller said, due to Easter’s late arrival this year.“Eye Candy” is a teaser to Phipps’ spring flower show, which will run March 23 through Easter Day, April 21.

Special programming throughout the show’s run at 1:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sunday will feature presentations on growing and caring for orchids and bonsai at home.


Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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