The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory’s orchid collection is gaining new ground thanks to community support

The Winter Carnival Orchid Show has such a devoted fan-base of flower lovers that the line to see the season’s best blooms often extends out the front door of Como’s Visitor Center–in spite of occasional freezing temperatures.

Did You Know?

  • The St. Paul Winter Carnival Orchid Show, presented by the Orchid Society of Minnesota, is celebrating its 44th year at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory.
  • With judges from the American Orchid Society on hand to select the best blooms of the year, the show is the largest display of privately owned orchids in the region.
  • Since 2016, the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory has acquired 219 new orchids through individual donation and purchase with grants and contributions made by Como Friends, the Mid-America Orchid Congress, and the Orchid Society of Minnesota. Thank you!

Wear your St. Paul Winter Carnival button or show your Como Friends membership card to receive $1 off admission to the Winter Carnival Orchid Show, January 27 and 28, 2018, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event is $5 for adults, $3 for kids under 12, and free to children under the age of 3.

While that crazy behavior is part of the Winter Carnival atmosphere, it’s also in keeping with the orchid’s long history of inspiring near-hysteria among plant lovers. The English even coined the term “orchidelirium” to describe the Victorian era frenzy for finding and cultivating these fragile bloomers–a craze that got so out of control that at least one species of lady slipper was declared extinct in Great Britain.

Fortunately for the orchid, there are thousands of other species flourishing in nearly every corner of the world, says Como horticulturist Bryn Fleming. “The diversity of orchids is probably one of the reasons they’re so popular with plant geeks. The colors, sizes and shapes can vary so much, that once you start getting into orchids, there’s no end.”

“It’s really satisfying to get a new orchid to flower–you know you’ve done something to make your plant really happy,” Como horticulturist Bryn Fleming

The diversity of Como’s collection of orchids is also on the rise, thanks to your contributions to Como Friends. Three years ago, grant funding allowed Como horticulturists to conduct widespread testing on the 1,600-plant collection to eradicate Odontoglossum ringspot virus and Cymbidium mosaic virus–diseases detected in nearly 40 percent of Como’s orchid collection.

“It’s tough to throw away a plant that looks great and that’s not symptomatic, but we had to do it to keep the rest of the collection healthy,” Fleming explains. But since then, horticulturists have used grant funding from Como Friends and other community support to rebuild the collection with an eye toward cultivating an even wider variety of orchids, several of which may even make it into the Orchid Show competition this month.

“It’s really satisfying to get a new orchid to flower–you know you’ve done something to make your plant really happy,” says Fleming, who encourages at home gardeners to take a chance on a hearty phalaenopsis or one of the dozens of other species for sale at the Orchid Show. “It’s a great way to keep a little bit of nature growing through a long winter.”

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