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Chicago landmarks reunited for the holidays

Karen Z. —  November 19, 2015 — Leave a comment

The marvelous miniatures of Wonderland Express reunite with their iconic Chicago landmarks for the holidays! Below are six of the most popular of our 80+ replicas alongside their real-world landmarks for comparison.

Created by Applied Imagination for our holiday and model train exhibition and photographed by staff photographer Robin Carlson, each model building is created in detail using only botanical materials. Come see these models and more for yourself: Wonderland Express is open daily November 27, 2015–January 3, 2016.

Click here to buy advance tickets.

PHOTO: Willis Tower & botanical scale model.

Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower)

1. Willis Tower
Have you had the nerve to try “the Ledge” yet? The glass balcony on the 103rd floor of Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) wouldn’t be quite so intimidating from our 9-foot-tall replica…

PHOTO: Marshall Field's building clock & botanical scale model.

Marshall Field’s building clock

2. Marshall Field’s clock
We couldn’t quite squeeze all the numbers onto the face of our 3-inch-high Marshall Field’s clock (now Macy’s). Look closely at the 7½-ton, bronze original, and you’ll see that the Roman numeral “four” is represented as IIII rather than IV.

PHOTO: Newberry Library & botanical scale model.

Newberry Library

3. Newberry Library
In 1998, more than 100 years of city soot was washed from the darkened exterior of the Newberry Library, revealing its original 1893 surface of Connecticut pink granite.

PHOTO: Chicago Theatre & botanical scale model.

Chicago Theatre

4. Chicago Theatre
Called “the Wonder Theatre of the World” in 1921, the Chicago Theatre is a landmark loaded with other landmark references: the arch over the glitzy marquee is modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the lobby after the Royal Chapel at Versailles, and the grand staircase after the one in the Paris Opera House.

PHOTO: Chicago Stadium & botanical scale model.

Chicago Stadium (now United Center)

5. Chicago Stadium
Before there was the United Center, there was the Chicago Stadium, home to the Blackhawks, the Bulls, boxing, ice shows, superstar concerts (Elvis, the Rolling Stones), and political conventions galore. Opened in 1929 and demolished in 1995, the Stadium was state-of-the-art for its day, despite being described as having “the acoustics of a shower stall.”

PHOTO: Rockefeller Memorial Chapel & botanical scale model.

Rockefeller Memorial Chapel

6. Rockefeller Memorial Chapel
More than 100 seedpods stand in for the more than 100 statues that decorate the exterior of the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. Built almost entirely of stone, the real thing weighs a staggering 32,000 tons; our model, about 20 pounds.

Wonderland Express is a 10,000-square-foot holiday-themed exhibition that’s become a family-friendly tradition at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Model trains travel over bridges, under trestles, and past waterfalls on their way through a magical landscape with more than 80 mini-replicas of Chicago-area landmarks, all created with natural materials.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Fall is family photo time, as the holidays near and thoughts turn to cards, gifts, and updates. The Chicago Botanic Garden makes a beautiful background! 

 PHOTO: Crescent Garden.

No. 1: Crescent Garden
Works great for: groups large and small. Chrysanthemums and Japanese maples in shades of burgundy and wine.

PHOTO: English Oak Meadow.

No. 2: English Oak Meadow
Works great for: families. As our silhouette “family” shows, position the group on the path, then stand on the grassy area to take the shot. It’s a good vertical backdrop for larger groups.

PHOTO: Home Landscape Garden.

No. 3: Farwell Landscape Garden
Works great for: couples, kids. The “arm” of a copper beech creates a creative arch for framing. 

PHOTO: English Walled Garden.

No. 4: English Walled Garden
Works great for: tight-knit clusters. The perfect blue, the perfect bench, always a perfect picture.

PHOTO: Puryear Point.

No. 5: Puryear Point
Works great for: close-ups. Want the grand vista in the background? Head up to the hill between the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden and the Arch Bridge, where two Martin Puryear sculptures offer not only a nice place to relax, but also a grand vista of the Japanese islands.

PHOTO: Arch Bridge.

No. 6: Arch Bridge
Works great for: group selfies. Try this at sunset, as golden light illuminates the bridge.

PHOTO: Lakeside Terrace.

No. 7: Lakeside Terrace
Works great for: formal photos. Beautifully designed water-level terrace has seating, water, and a view of Evening Island.

PHOTO: Circle Garden.

No. 8: Circle Garden
Works great for: short-distance walkers. Just a few steps outside the Regenstein Center, the Circle Garden’s beautifully designed beds and “secret garden” benches are ideal for grandparents and little ones.

PHOTO: Outer Road.

No. 9: Outer Road
Works great for: getting away from the crowd. On the outer road, between the Bernice E. Lavin Plant Evaluation Garden and Dixon Prairie, rows of trees make a nice background with a view to the grasses beyond.

PHOTO: Evening Island.

No. 10: Evening Island
Works great for: everyone. Evening Island has broad paths, drifting grasses, big sky, a grand lawn, and a handy wall for perching at the Nautilus.

Note: With the turn of the season, backgrounds are changing every day! Use these as guidelines for your photos, and let us know your favorite backgrounds! 

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and

When Ross Gerbasi and his coworkers at Threaded Films heard that the Chicago Botanic Garden’s first titan arum, Spike, might bloom in August, they immediately thought, “puppet.”

An unusual thought, unless you happen to be Ross…or his mom, Debi Gerbasi…or artist Jessica Plummer. These three started making puppets together for fun about a year ago. Naturally, the group began with puppets of themselves…then of all the guys at Threaded Films (a video/production company with a penchant for film gear). 

PHOTO: Titan Taylor (the amorphophallus titanum puppet) was almost as big a star as #CBGAlice.

Titan Taylor was almost as big a star as #CBGAlice.

Although Spike lost energy and never did open, Ross and his mom and Jessica kept the energy going on their titan arum puppet project. Slowly, the basement of Debi’s house turned into a creative factory, with floor-to-ceiling plastic walls around the sanders, saws, and drills. (A separate, dust-free area houses Debi’s well-furnished sewing room.)

PHOTO: Taylor an Amorphophallus titanum puppet, poses with kids.

Ross Gerbasi and TItan Taylor talked and posed with fans in the bonsai courtyard until 8 p.m.

Jessica took the creative lead for shaping the titan puppet, which is made of foam. Paper templates came first; next came foam that could be heated, bent, sanded, carved, airbrushed, and painted. The spadix (the tall structure in the center) is made of lightweight, open-cell foam…with buttons for eyes. The puppeteer’s arm goes up a sewn-on sleeve inside.

Just as the puppet, dubbed Taylor (whose name was chosen for its genderless quality), was finished, Ross and company heard that a second titan arum had sent up a flower bud at the Garden. Ross brought Taylor to our office to meet us—and we immediately “booked” it as “public puppet” for the night that the second titan, dubbed Alice the Amorphophallus, would bloom.

That turned out to be September 29, 2015, and with Ross as puppeteer, Taylor turned out to be an attraction second only to Alice herself. Children flocked to the puppet, thrilled to meet their first titan. Adults with big smiles took photos and selfies.

PHOTO: Threaded Films puppets—Ross Gerbasi on the right.

Threaded Films puppets—Ross Gerbasi on the right.

Thank you, Ross. It was really, really fun.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and

It is our pleasure to introduce another titan arum (in bloom!), which we have joyfully named “Alice the Amorphophallus.” Given the history below, it’s a name to remember! Alice will be on display in the Semitropical Greenhouse through Sunday, October 4—view what she looks like now on our webcam. 

PHOTO: Alice the Amorphophallus began blooming late at night on September 28, 2015.

Alice the Amorphophallus is caught blooming on webcam at 12:22:39 a.m. today—the Semitropical Greenhouse may smell a bit funky this morning.

When the Chicago Botanic Garden’s first budding Amorphophallus titanum presented itself, we called it “Spike,” since the flower structure, or inflorescence, is also known as a flower spike.

But the true name of Spike (and Alice) is a title that can make you blush, do a double take, or send you running to Google. How did Amorphophallus titanum end up with that name?

First, imagine a world where the same plant was called different names in different languages in every town in every valley in every country around the globe.

It existed before 1753, when the great botanist Carolus Linnaeus brought order to the chaos with his famous work titled Systema Naturae.

His simple system of binomial nomenclature allowed the world to speak the same language when it came to plants. It was no coincidence that the chosen tongue was Latin—the only language acceptable to all (at least in Europe), as its native speakers no longer existed.

ILLUSTRATION: Corpse plant in flower illustrated by M. Smith in Curtis's Botanical Magazine (1891).

Amorphophallus titanum (Becc.) Becc. ex Arcang.—titan arum from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, vol. 117 [ser. 3, vol. 47]: t. 7153 (1891) [M. Smith]

Linnaeus created the scientific shortcut of categorizing plants by their flowers and fruit (leaves had already been tried and abandoned). The elegant system caught on, and Linnaeus himself named some 9,000 plants before his death in 1778.

Some of those plant names continued a long-standing practice: using the nomenclature of the human body to label the botanical world.

The Greeks had done it: they chose the word Hepatica (hepar = liver in Greek), as the name for plants with tri-lobed leaves that look rather like a human liver.

The Romans coined the familiar name Pulmonaria (pulmo = lungs in Latin) for the perennial with spotted leaves that suggested a diseased lung.

Likewise, Linnaeus named a genus Podophyllum, because its leaf resembled a foot, and named another Digitalis—and what gardener hasn’t slipped a fingertip into the flower of a foxglove and admired how neatly it fits?

Fast forward 100 years.

A century after Linnaeus, during the great age of plant exploration in the mid-1800s, ships from many countries were crisscrossing the seas in search of riches—including rare and exotic plants.

ILLUSTRATION: Bud shown with male and female flowers of Amorphophallus titanum (Becc.) Becc. - Titan Arum from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, vol. 117 [ser. 3, vol. 47]: t. 7153 (1891) [M. Smith].

Bud shown with male and female flowers of Amorphophallus titanum (Becc.) Becc. ex Arcang.—titan arum from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, vol. 117 [ser. 3, vol. 47]: t. 7153 (1891) [M. Smith]

One ship brought Italian botanist and explorer Odoardo Beccari to Sumatra, Indonesia, in 1878. There he was rewarded with the sight of a “bunga bangkai” in full flower. Roughly translated, the name meant “corpse flower” or carrion flower (a name also given to the stinky tropical genus Rafflesia). Collecting seeds and a number of corms, Beccari sent his prizes back to his Italian patron. Sadly, the corms perished. But the seeds survived, and seedlings were grown from them—one of those was sent the following year to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. (In 1889, the plant flowered, causing a sensation.)

Beccari’s notes from his trip were published in 1879 in Nuovo Giornale Botanico Italiano under the title “L’Amorphophallus titanum Beccari.” In naming the “new” species, Beccari simply added “giant” to the already-descriptive genus name, which translates as “misshapen phallus.”

Jump forward another century and, in 1995, Sir David Attenborough presented a BBC show called The Private Life of Plants. In the episode about flowers, he introduced A. titanum to viewers with a new “common” name: titan arum. Attenborough felt that the Latin name was inappropriate for television audiences.

Today, as titan cultivation succeeds at more and more botanic gardens and academic institutions, it has become popular to personify these giants of the plant world with nicknames. Some have been rooted in botany (“Carolus” at Cornell referenced Linnaeus himself), some steeped in mythology (“Hyperion,” the thinking man’s Greek titan, at Gustavus Adolphus University), some simply named with joy and humor (“Bob,” “Morticia,” “Tiny”).

PHOTO: Early morning visitors to #CBGAlice enjoy a snootful of stench from the blooming beauty.

Early morning visitors to #CBGAlice enjoy a snootful of stench from the blooming beauty.

PHOTO: The flashlight apps of several cell phones light this morning's pollination activities. Dr. Shannon Still wields a paintbrush laden with pollen, brushing it lightly on the female flowers on the spadix.

The flashlight apps of several cell phones light this morning’s pollination activities. Dr. Shannon Still wields a paintbrush laden with pollen, brushing it lightly on the female flowers on the spadix.

PHOTO: Phones and cameras are out in force today to capture the magical titan arum bloom. The square in the back of the flower is the replaced spathe where pollination occurred moments earlier.

Phones and cameras are out in force today to capture the magical titan arum bloom. The square in the back of the flower is the replaced spathe where pollination occurred moments earlier.

We hope you enjoy your visit with #CBGAlice! Please check our website at for info on the bloom. The live webcam will remain on through Sunday, October 4, 2015. 

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Fall is the season to spend outdoor time with the family. With school occupying the weekdays and thoughts of the busy holidays ahead, every autumn weekend counts!

For some families, “Let’s go look at the leaves” works as an autumn weekend rallying cry year after year (Welcome back!). But other families need a little more than color for motivation. Here are our suggestions for some fun fall things to do together at the Chicago Botanic Garden—and what to say to get the kids interested:

PHOTO: Beekeeper Ann Stevens adds bees to a hive this past spring.

Beekeeper Ann Stevens adds bees to a hive this past spring. Find out how those bees did this summer, and get more beekeeping questions answered in person!

“Let’s go meet the beekeepers.”

Harvest Weekend is September 19 to 20. The whole family can head out to the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden for a day full of fun and interesting topics: talk face-to-hood with the beekeepers; sample the apple expert’s varieties and discuss how to plant an apple tree in your yard; learn how to pickle, can, and preserve and how to keep growing veggies into winter; and join in on a honey tasting! There’s fun stuff for little kids, of course, and for foodies there’s a cookbook swap—bring a gently used cookbook and take a “new” one home!

Also that weekend: It’s the final Malott Japanese Garden Family Sunday of the season, a good day for exploring more about Japanese culture (creative kids will dig the gyotaku, or fish prints).

PHOTO: Biking to and from the Garden is better than ever with the North Branch Trail connection, and newly-available bike rentals.

Biking to and from the Garden is better than ever with the North Branch Trail connection, and newly available bike rentals.

“Let’s go for a bike ride.”

Rent a bike on site at the Garden or BYO (bike your own) here via the spiffy new Green Bay Trail linkup and North Branch Trail addition along Lake Cook Road. Park your bike at the Visitor Center or Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center, and hike around to see the mums, the first fall color in the McDonald Woods, and the taller-than-your-head grasses in the Dixon Prairie.

Every weekend in September: free, fun activities for your toddlers, preschoolers, and elementary school kids! Bring them to Family Drop-ins under the arbor at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. Hands-on activities for fall include making pumpkin prints and playing sniff & guess!

PHOTO: Selfie spot! Gourd Mountain is a great backdrop for your fall photo.

Gourd Mountain returns as the favorite photo op at the Fall Bulb Festival!

“Let’s go see Gourd Mountain.”

Fall Bulb Festival is October 2 to 4. Everybody loves Gourd Mountain, the giant pile of picture-perfect gourds on the Esplanade (holiday photo, anyone?). It’s the centerpiece of Fall Bulb Festival, which combines the always-anticipated indoor Bulb Sale with an outdoor harvest marketplace. Sip a cider while you munch on cinnamon-roasted almonds, or enjoy a glass of wine or beer while you browse the booths. The straw-bale maze is a giggling playground for kids or all ages. Add live music, and brilliant fall color and enjoy the Garden in its full fall glory.

Also that weekend: Take advantage of the October 4 Farmers’ Market to buy freshly harvested fruits, vegetables, and fall crops, with an eye toward canning and preserving. (Did you get your recipes from Harvest Weekend’s cookbook swap?)

PHOTO: Elsa and Olaf know the place to trick-or-treat is Hallowfest!

Elsa and Olaf know the place to trick-or-treat is HallowFest!

“Let’s go trick-or-treating.”

We have three weekends to show off your costumes at the Garden this year!

Come in costume to Trains, Tricks & Treats (October 17 to 18) and HallowFest (October 24 to 25), and bring the dog in costume, too, for Spooky Pooch (read more below)! The Model Railroad Garden: Landmarks of America hosts Trains, Tricks & Treats especially for toddlers and preschool train enthusiasts, with spooky-friendly decorations and the garden’s famous miniature landmarks decked out in Halloween style. We’ll be handing out small treats and treasures, too—and a Halloween plant to take home! (Admission applies.)

“Things” get a little creepier at HallowFest, as night falls at the Garden: start with scar-y face painting, then check out the bat cave, the haunted forest, the awesome carved pumpkin gallery, and the ghost train at the Model Railroad Garden. Then…dance party! Excellent family photos, right?

PHOTO: Spooky Pooch parade favorite Cerberus (or "Fluffy" to Harry Potter fans) "pawses" for a photo op.

Parade favorite Cerberus (or “Fluffy” to Harry Potter fans) “pawses” for a photo op.

“Let’s dress the dog up!”

Spooky Pooch Parade is on Halloween this year—Saturday, October 31! If you haven’t been to Spooky Pooch Parade yet, you’re in for a “treat!” For two hours only (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.), the Garden throws open its doors to human’s best friends (on leashes) for a truly zany costume contest and pet parade, and one of the most fun and popular days of the year. The competition is stiff—last year’s overall winner was the entire cast of The Wizard of Oz!

Also that weekend: the Roadside Flower Sale is the best resource in town for the beautifully crafted dried flower arrangements, cornucopia, wreaths, bouquets and decorations you crave for the holidays. Dried flowers, grasses, and pods are collected all year long by a dedicated group of volunteers, who spend months designing and crafting the 300-plus items for sale; it’s been a Garden tradition since 1980.


See you at the Garden this fall!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and