Archives For Julie McCaffrey

Attention orchid fans: our vanilla orchid is blooming in the Tropical Greenhouse at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It’s a rare occurrence in the wild—and in a greenhouse. Wade Wheatley, assistant horticulturist, seized the moment to hand-pollinate the flower. 

Vanilla planifolia before pollination

Vanilla planifolia before pollination

Why hand pollinate? In hopes of producing a vanilla bean. Yes, the fruit of a vanilla orchid is used to make pure vanilla extract, which flavors many foods we enjoy.

Vanilla vines typically begin to flower at five years or older. Flowers are produced in clusters, with one flower opening each day in the morning. Stop by the Tropical Greenhouse soon to see what’s in bloom. 

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Escape to a warmer climate and enjoy a mini-vacation from Chicago winters in the Greenhouses at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation, showed us some of the more unusual plants we will find flowering—or fruiting—in the Greenhouses in January.

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

Discover amazing aloes and euphorbias in the Arid Greenhouse:

  • We have 43 different species of aloes, including: dwala aloe (Aloe chabaudii), hidden foot aloe (Aloe cryptopoda), and bitter aloe (Aloe ferox). The long tubular flowers of aloes are adapted for pollination by sunbirds, the African equivalent of our hummingbirds. The sap of aloe vera is used widely in cosmetics and to treat burns.
  • Our 35 different species of euphorbias are also spectacular during this time period. Look for geographic forms and cultivars of Euphorbia milii as well as the spectacular Masai spurge (Euphorbia neococcinea). Did you know that poinsettias are also in the genus Euphorbia?
  • About to flower for only the second time in 30 years is turquoise puya (Puya alpestris), a bromeliad native to the high, dry deserts of Chile whose turquoise flowers are irresistible to hummingbirds.

PHOTO: Bitter aloe (Aloe ferox).

Bitter aloe (Aloe ferox)

PHOTO: Crown-of-thorns (Euphorbia milii).

Crown-of-thorns (Euphorbia milii)

PHOTO: Turquoise puya (Puya alpestris).

Turquoise puya (Puya alpestris)

The Semitropical Greenhouse is where you will find the following:

  • Paper flower—What appears to be the “flowers” of Bougainvillea ‘Barbara Karst’ and ‘Singapore White’ are actually colorful bracts surrounding the small, white flowers.
  • Dwarf pomegranate (Punica granatum ‘Nana’)—Pomegranates are native to the Middle East and are part of the Biblical Plants collection in the Semitropical Greenhouse.
  • Calamondin orange (× Citrofortunella mitis)—This decorative, small orange is too bitter to be eaten.
  • Ponderosa lemon (Citrus × ponderosa)—Ponderosa lemons are the largest in the world.
PHOTO: Bougainvillea × buttiana 'Barbara Karst'.

Paper flower (Bougainvillea × buttiana ‘Barbara Karst’)

PHOTO: Dwarf pomegranate (Punica granatum 'Nana').

Dwarf pomegranate (Punica granatum ‘Nana’)

PHOTO: Calamondin orange (x Citrofortunella microcarpa).

Calamondin orange (× Citrofortunella microcarpa)

PHOTO: Ponderosa lemon (Citrus x ponderosa).

Ponderosa lemon (Citrus × ponderosa)

Don’t miss these highlights in the Tropical Greenhouse:

  • “Alice” the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) with her magnificent orange fruiting spike. (The fruiting stage does not produce an odor.) The fruits will mature over the next two months to a deep red. In the wilds of Sumatra, ripe fruits are eaten by the rhinocerous hornbill, which spread the seeds.
  • The vining Vanilla planifolia var. variegata is a variegated form of the Central American orchid that produces vanilla beans
  • Cacao (Theobroma cacao)—the pods from this plant are used to make chocolate.  
  • Nodding clerodendrum (Clerodendrum nutans) is among the first of this genus of winter-flowering shrubs and vines to be covered in showy flowers.
  • The elegant white Angraecum Memoria Mark Aldridge orchids with their long nectar tubes signal the start of orchid flowering season.
PHOTO: Vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia).

Vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia)

PHOTO: Cocoa pod (Theobroma cacao).

Cocoa pod (Theobroma cacao)

PHOTO: Nodding clerodendrum (Clerodendrum nutans).

Nodding clerodendrum (Clerodendrum nutans)

PHOTO: Angraecum Memoria Mark Aldridge.

Angraecum Memoria Mark Aldridge (A. sesquipedale × A. eburneum ssp. Superbum)

Please note: The Greenhouses and adjacent galleries will have limited access January 25 – February 7; from February 8 – 12, they will be closed in preparation for the Orchid Show, opening February 13, 2016. From February 13 – March 13, the Greenhouses will be open to Orchid Show ticketed visitors only. 

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Mushroom Discovery

Julie McCaffrey —  December 29, 2014 — Leave a comment

All the possibilities for the Obama Library plus our Windy City Harvest Youth Farm are featured on National Geographic’s website! Read about it in Greg Mueller’s article, The Next New Species Could be in Your Backyard: Why Exploration and Discovery Matter—Everywhere on National Geographic. Mueller, chief scientist and Negaunee Foundation vice president of science at the Garden, describes the excitement of discovering new species in our own neighborhoods and parks.

Collection: Patrick R. Leacock 5450 2003 Aug 9 USA, Illinois, Cook County Illinois Mycological Association foray Herbarium: F, C0210207F

Photograph by Patrick R. Leacock

Read more by Garden scientists at
Copyright © 2014 National Geographic

Give Thanks with Pumpkin Fudge

Skip the pie—bring pumpkin fudge and get invited back next year!

Julie McCaffrey —  November 21, 2014 — Leave a comment

No Thanksgiving is complete without a pumpkin dish—and it doesn’t hurt to spice it up with a little something extra…

If you’re ready to start a new tradition (enough already with the pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin cookies), consider chef Michael Kingsley’s bourbon pumpkin-pecan fudge (available now at the Garden View Café). The bourbon gives the fudge a bit of a kick (and who doesn’t need a little jump-start during the holidays?).

The recipe is simple enough to get the whole family involved. Think butter…pumpkin…toasted pecans—what’s not to like? And what better way to celebrate the season than to spend time together, break fudge together, and give thanks that you’re able to do so?

Pull out your candy thermometer, 4-quart sauce pan, wooden spoon, measuring cups and spoons, 13-by-9-inch pan, aluminum foil, nonstick cooking spray, and seasonal cookie cutters (and get the camera ready—not that anyone is going to lick the spoon…). This is going to be delicious.

Bourbon Pumpkin-Pecan Fudge

PHOTO: Pumpkin fudge

1¾ cups sugar
1¼ cups brown sugar
¾ cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup evaporated milk (5-ounce can)
½ cup canned pumpkin purée (no added sugar) 
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon allspice
2¼ cups white chocolate chips
7 ounces marshmallow fluff (any brand)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon bourbon (optional, but worth it!)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

Start by covering a 13-by-9-inch pan with aluminum foil. Spray the covered pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle the chopped pecans evenly over the bottom of the pan. (They do not have to completely cover it.) Set aside.

Combine the sugar, brown sugar, butter, evaporated milk, pumpkin purée, spices, and salt in a pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat and continue to boil until the temperature reaches 236 degrees Fahrenheit on your candy thermometer. Remove from heat.

Working quickly, add the white chocolate chips, marshmallow fluff, bourbon, and vanilla to the pan. Be careful, as this may spatter and will be very hot! Fold ingredients in until completely incorporated. Pour the hot fudge mixture over the chopped pecans and quickly spread evenly; it will immediately start to set up as it cools.

Place the pan uncovered in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Your mouth is probably watering already, but unfortunately, it will take this long to set up completely.

After cooling the pan completely for 3 hours, remove the pan from the refrigerator, and turn it upside down on a cutting board. The fudge should pop right out. Peel off the aluminum foil and discard. Want to make your treats extra special? Use cookie cutters to cut your fudge into festive autumn shapes—or maybe dinosaurs if you’re that kind of person—and enjoy!

Note: If you have it in your spice rack, you can substitute 3½ teaspoons of “pumpkin pie spice” for the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice.

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and

All the possibilities for the Obama Library plus our Windy City Harvest Youth Farm are featured in the Chicago Tribune today! Read about it in Community groups pin hopes on Obama library (PDF).

PHOTO: Windy City Harvest Youth Farm teen waters in the garden.

( Jose M. Osorio, Chicago Tribune / July 16, 2014 )
Oluwapelumi Ajayi, 15, waters vegetable beds at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s urban farm in Washington Park last month. Sophia Shaw, the botanic garden’s CEO, hopes the Obama presidential library will settle on the South Side and include a garden.

Click here to download a PDF of this article.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC