A POINSETTIA BY ANY OTHER NAME

The stars of the Holiday Flower Show aren't poinsettias—they're pink princettias

Photo courtesy of Como Park Zoo & Conservatory

By Lianna Matt

Five to six months ago, shipments of small plants arrived at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory from large production greenhouses across the United States. Out of the public’s eyes, the plants sat under lights that made it seem as if the sun came up at midnight. And so they grew. Starting Oct. 1, though, the season seemed to change. The impossibly long days became impossibly long nights, so the plants responded the only way they knew how: They started changing colors, becoming the recognizable poinsettias of the Como Zoo Park & Conservatory's Holiday Flower Show.

The show runs from Dec. 2 through Jan. 7, and it takes a team of about six horticulturists, interns and a few volunteers a whole week and 200 hours to compost the previous show’s plants, transplant the new blooms and make sure everything is just so.

“Every year, (growers) come out with new varieties and cultivars, so January and February is when we brainstorm,” says Paul Knuth, co-horticulture supervisor at Como. “When I first started in 1990, it was the same show year after year. Now we can say, hey, there’s this purple variety that came out, so let’s throw a show over on that scene or something. We can do something novel.”

With this leeway, the Holiday Show’s poinsettia staple can still feel like a breath of fresh air every year even though the other five annual flower shows arguably have more conceptual flexibility. While the conservatory has played with different poinsettia colors over the years—last year the star of the show was the warmer hued and aptly named Gold Rush poinsettia—this year’s poinsettias are arrays of pinks with bursts of white. In reality, they’re not poinsettias at all. They’re the smaller, more compact look-a-like species, the princettia.

Because the pinks of the princettias have blue undertones as opposed to red, the whole show will look cooler than in past years, and the colors will be enchantingly set off with the silver-toned plants and obelisks. Even with the focus on the princettias’ pinks, you’ll still see some signature red leaves among the mix. As much as Knuth loves seeing how the Holiday Show can be reborn each year, he loves the crimson colors.

“Up here in the North with short days and cold outside, that red is just so nice,” says Knuth. “It's the warm color red. It makes you feel alive; you can see why red is tied into holidays.”

After you stop by the Holiday Show, continue your walk indoors and visit the rest of the Conservatory’s alcoves like the Tropical Encounters garden and the Palm Dome, or go outside and truly celebrate the magic of the season with animals like Como Zoo’s polar bears Suki and Sakari.

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