My Tropical Fix at Como

I love to visit the Como Conservatory, especially in winter. Walking from the car, several inches of glistening snow has fallen on the rolling hills of Como Park. I see the glass monolith in the distance; it’s windows steamed up. As I open the door to this enormous greenhouse, I enter a lush, green jungle that’s humid and inviting. Seeing all of the exotic ferns and variety of tropical plants transports me to a better frame of mind. The orange and white koi swim toward the surface of the black water as if to say hello, with their gaping mouths opening and closing.

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The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory was first opened to the public in 1915. I was surprised to find out that it is open every day of the year. There are several gardens and galleries. Some of my favorites are:

  • the Bonsai gallery, where there are about eight bonsai trees. Most of them have been, as they say, “in training” since 2001.
  • the Fern Room which features a wide array of tree ferns, Bird’s-nest fern, Adiantum, and several others.
  • the North Garden, which houses useful plants such as aloe, bamboo, bananas, cacao, coffee, figs, macadamia, mahogany, manila hemp, manioc and papaya, and
  • the Tropical Encounters Exhibit, featuring animals and plants from Central and South America. The river fish were especially intriguing since they are so much a part of the local culture.

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Discovering “Mums”

Decorative Perennial Plants for Fall

I always thought “mums” were those plants that you’d bring to your grandma or elderly relative in the retirement home. These temporary annual plants would last all but a few weeks. But after researching “mums”, or as they are supposed to be called, Chrysanthemums, I realized that there’s a huge variety of perennial plants that last from season to season.
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Chrysanthemum, a.k.a. “Mums”

Chrysanthemums, also known as mums, are flowering plants of the genus Chrysanthemum, in the family Asteraceae. They are native to Asia and northeastern Europe. Most species originate from East Asia and the center of diversity is in China. There are about 40 valid species of mums and countless horticultural varieties.

Chrysanthemums were first cultivated in China as a flowering herb, beginning in the 15th century BC. Over 500 plants had been recorded by the year 1630. The flower may have been brought to Japan in the eighth century AD, and the Emperor adopted the flower as his official seal. Chrysanthemums entered American horticulture in 1798 when Colonel John Stevens imported a cultivated variety known as ‘Dark Purple’ from England.

A Variety of Blooms

Chrysanthemum blooms are divided into 13 different bloom forms by the US National Chrysanthemum Society. The bloom forms are defined by the way the ray and disk florets are arranged. Chrysanthemum blooms are composed of many individual flowers (florets), each one capable of producing a seed. The disk florets are in the center of the bloom head, and the ray florets are on the perimeter.
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Reflex form – the disk florets are concealed and the ray florets reflex outwards to create a mop-like appearance.

Pompon form – fully double, of small size, and very globular in form. Single and semidouble blooms have exposed disk florets and one to seven rows of ray florets.

Anemone form – the disk florets are prominent, often raised and overshadowing the ray florets. The spoon-form disk florets are visible.

Spider form – the disk florets are concealed, and the ray florets are tube-like with hooked or barbed ends, hanging loosely around the stem.

Fun Facts about Mums

– A number of formerly state-endowed shrines have adopted a chrysanthemum crest; most notable of these is Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine.
– The term “chrysanthemum” is used to refer to a certain type of fireworks that produce a pattern of trailing sparks similar to a chrysanthemum flower.
– Chrysanthemum plants have been shown to reduce indoor air pollution by the NASA Clean Air Study.
– In some countries of Europe (e.g., France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Croatia), chrysanthemums are symbolic of death and are used only for funerals or on graves. Similarly, in China, Japan and Korea, white chrysanthemums signify grief. In the United States, the flower is usually regarded as positive and cheerful.
Tutankhamen was buried with floral collars of chrysanthemum.

Where to Buy Mums

Garden Harvest Supply – Find a variety of perennial mums for your landscape.

Faribault Growers, Inc. – Growing mums for over 70 years.

Bachman’s – Founded in 1885, Bachman’s is considered one of the largest traditional floral and nursery operations in the world.