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This is the story of a road trip I took with some corpse flowers, the rock stars of the plant world. One of the hallmarks of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s plant collection is the more than 70 species of Amorphophallus. In particular, Amorphophallus titanum, also called the titan arum or corpse flower, has gained attention because of its very large flower and pungent fragrance at bloom time—a hybrid of week-old gym socks and a rotting mouse that you just can’t seem to find in your kitchen.

The Garden began collecting titan arums, or corpse flowers, in 2003. There’s a worldwide conservation effort to preserve the species, as it is considered “vulnerable”—unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve, the species is likely to become endangered.

Our titan arums began blooming about three years ago. The first one, Spike, failed to bloom, but shortly after, in September 2015, Alice the Amorphophallus bloomed in all of its stinky glory. At one point, we had two, Java and Sumatra, in their bloom cycle at the same time.

Titan Twins Java and Sumatra

Titan Twins Java and Sumatra

Over time, our family of titans has grown. Many of the Garden’s corpse flowers share the same lineage, and the Garden decided to share some of our titan wealth with other botanical institutions. It is important to build genetic diversity in our collection and at other botanical institutions and to understand more about these plants through genetic assessment work being conducted by Garden scientists.

All aboard the Titan Express!

All aboard the Titan Express!

I volunteered to captain the Titan Express, which would deliver the titan arums to their new homes: “Pat” to the New York Botanical Garden, “Sprout,” which bloomed in April 2016 at the Garden, to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, and “Kris” to Chanticleer Garden in Pennsylvania.

We departed the Garden on August 17. All aboard the Titan Express!

My plan was to make it to the New York Botanical Garden by 2 p.m. the next day. Of course, I had several hundreds of miles and the George Washington Bridge to deal with. Even though I left Ohio at 4 a.m., I arrived at NYBG two hours late. Marc Hachadourian, director of the Nolen Greenhouses and curator of the Orchid Collection, graciously met me on a Saturday and more graciously waited two additional hours for my arrival.

Titan Road Trip - Marc_Hachadourian

Marc Hachadourian, director of the Nolen Greenhouses and curator of the Orchid Collection.

Titan Road Trip - Wawa Gas Station

The iconic Wawa convenience store—its coffee rivals Starbucks.

With Pat safe and sound, I headed to the New Jersey Turnpike. As much as Philadelphia and Pennsylvania are identified by the Phillies, Eagles, cheesesteaks, and the Liberty Bell, the iconic Wawa convenience store dots the landscape and its coffee rivals Starbucks.

Titan Road Trip - Deleware

Welcome to Delaware

Since I was back in my old “stomping grounds,” I tried to add in visits to see friends, family, and colleagues, as well as take care of some additional botanical business. I conducted a national collections review for the University of Delaware Botanic Gardens in Newark, Delaware.

Feeling weak after a long day of critical thinking about Styrax and Baptisia (two collections under consideration for a national status), I retreated to the regionally famous University of Delaware Creamery for some toffee-flavored sustenance.

Titan No. 2, Sprout, was destined just north of the Delaware border to the Longwood Gardens.

After Longwood, I headed to the beautiful Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Intern Jack McCoy and grounds manager Jeff Lynch stand among some younger titans they received from the Chicago Botanic Garden a couple years ago.

Titan Road Trip - Chanticleer Garden

Andrew Bunting delivers Sprout to the Longwood Gardens.

While in the area, I had a chance to visit Doe Run, which was the famed garden of plantsman, Sir John Thouron, and which is now owned by the owner of Urban Outfitters, Richard Hayne. The estate sits in beautiful Chester County, which is rolling countryside with many equestrian-related activities. While Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware, create a significant megalopolis, there remains a reasonable amount of farmland and a very pastoral countryside.

Titan Road Trip - Doe Run

Chester County

Farmland in Pennsylvania

Farmland in Pennsylvania

Titan Road Trip - Andrews House

Bunting’s house, in Swarthmore

Wrapping up the few days on the Titan Express on the East Coast, I had to stop by the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College, where I worked for 27 years. And while in Swarthmore, I headed to my house, Belvidere, which I still own, but is rented to a horticulturist at the Scott Arboretum, Josh Coceano.

After several long days of titan tribulations and adventures, a stop at a Delaware drinking hole was in the cards.

I made one last stop to see my mom in Haddon Heights, New Jersey. She is an avid gardener and could appreciate my stories of Andrew’s Excellent Amorphophallus Adventure.

Titan Road Trip - Andrews Mom

Bunting’s mom in Haddon Heights, New Jersey

More than 1,000 miles later, the Titan Express made its last stop.

©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

You might have noticed a group of hard-working high-schoolers wearing hard hats and toting shovels at the Chicago Botanic Garden this summer. The aspiring conservationists—part of the Conservation Corps—are doing important restoration work throughout the Forest Preserves of Cook County, including a stint at the Garden.

Conservation Corps Teens Working

Conservation Corps teens cleared overgrown bushes and installed new plantings at the Garden.

The Conservation Corps is a paid summer internship that gives young people hands-on conservation and environmental science experience. Students partnered with Garden horticulturists and learned to identify plants and remove invasive species. This year, they worked to clear and trim overgrown bushes, install new plantings, and remove invasive plants. In addition to their work at the Garden, Corps members worked at Harms Woods near Glenview and took field trips such as an environmental science career day at the Field Museum.

We asked a few teens about their experience and what they learned while working at the Garden. Here’s what they had to say:

“It’s a great building block to what I want to do. I’ve already learned so much about identifying plants, trail mulching, steps you can take to improve the environment, and different environmental careers. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead.” —Gabby Onnenga, 17, Skokie

Conservation Corps teens removed stumps

It was hard work. The interns removed stumps – 14 in a single day.

“It’s allowed me to connect with a lot of people I wouldn’t have before. Last Friday we went to the Field Museum and talked to a lot of interesting people there. I talked with one of the leaders here at the Garden who recommended me to someone who runs a fungus organization. It could connect us to other opportunities.” —Aaron Ivsin, 16, Chicago

Forest Preserves Conservation Corps

The program is part of the effort by the Garden and its partner, the Forest Preserves, to build the next generation of conservation leaders.

“I want to be an environmental biologist. This will help me later in life because everybody knows each other in the field.” —Ushus Hermanson, 17, Chicago

The program is part of the effort by the Garden and its partner, Friends of the Forest Preserves, to build the next generation of conservation leaders. “It has been great to have another Forest Preserves Conservation Corps crew this summer,” said Beth Dunn, the Garden’s director of government affairs, who helped coordinate the program. “Not only is it a great help for the Garden’s staff to tackle needed projects, it is a great learning experience for the crew members who may be for the first time working as part of a land management team.”

For many, it was just the place they wanted to be. “Right from the beginning, I knew I made the right choice,” said Sile Surman, 16, of Wilmette. “I’m very passionate about the environment, and it’s a great experience to be surrounded by people who are also passionate.”


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Artist Penelope Gottlieb works in vibrant colors and on large canvases, some as large as 16 feet wide. But as the name of her exhibition, Against Forgetting, at the Chicago Botanic Garden reveals, visitors need to take a close, reflective look. Her paintings address real challenges—extinction, invasive species, and vanishing plants—within the plant world.

A montage of the Extinct Botanicals prints draws visitors in to the exhibition.

A montage of the Extinct Botanicals prints draws visitors in to the exhibition.

“I am not a scientist, I am not a botanist, and I’m not attempting to be a naturalist. These are my fantasies of plants, an artist’s interpretation of nature,” said Gottlieb from her studio in Santa Barbara. “My goal is to paint plants that are disappearing and those that have been confirmed as extinct. I didn’t just want to paint pretty pictures. I wanted to find something that I felt was important.”

Her interpretation of Viola cryana will be there, a plant last seen in France 90 years ago. So will Thismia americana, which hasn’t been seen for more than a century since it was found in a wet prairie along South Torrence Avenue in Chicago.

Against Forgetting, a collection of about 30 works by Gottlieb, will be on display through August 12 in Joutras Gallery. 

Gabriel Hutchison, the Garden’s exhibitions and programs production manager, recalled how Gottlieb’s art stood out from a stack of exhibition submissions. “Bold colors and very frantic movement within the paintings really kept my attention and I found myself looking at the paintings longer than I would most printed pieces,” he said. “If someone is doing atypical botanical illustrations, they’re either going to go kind of abstract or cartooning. But this isn’t the case with Penelope’s work. There’s a lot of combining colors to create this very expressive palette.”

Perhaps her passion was nurtured by her lush backyard garden in California or the work with her father in the family’s Hollywood Hills garden. “I have fond memories of our time together,” said Gottlieb, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art and pursued a career as an illustrator, then as a title designer for motion pictures before embracing painting and extinct plants in the ’90s.

Gottlieb works on one of the Extinct Botanicals canvases in her studio.

Gottlieb works on one of the Extinct Botanicals canvases in her studio.

Her work was “kind of a metaphor for some loss in my life,” she said. “When something’s gone forever, you kind of attempt to remember it…You might have trouble remembering the face of someone you love who has passed. I was thinking about loss and for some reason I started thinking about botanical loss.” 

Her curiosity led her to find out which plants became extinct and why that happened. “The more I found out, the more I became engaged and decided I would create this body of work that really focused on plant extinction,” she said. “I would be eulogizing and tracking contemporary extinctions as they became confirmed. So each of my paintings represents a lost species.”

Gottlieb wanted to move beyond traditional botanic renderings. “Those were very lovely and calm. And I felt like everything was chaotic and frightening and that nature was under attack,” she added. “I needed to convey a kind of struggle.” The result was her first series, the bold, colorful Extinct Botanicals.

Thrift shop botanical art prints by John James Audubon served as inspiration for her next series, Invasive Species. Gottlieb used reproductions of Audubon bird prints and incorporated her view of nature through plants. She designed what she wanted to paint on tissue over the pieces before actually painting on the print. “I really do like a lot of narrative in these paintings. I have a reason for all the different objects I put in,” added Gottlieb.

The vulnerability of orchids, from loss of habitat to poachers, prompted the Vanishing Species series, and an artistic challenge: How would the orchid series differ from her other works? She used a technique that makes the paintings highly reflective, not unlike mirrors. “When you stand in front of them, you see your own reflection in the surface,” she said. “It kind of makes you feel like maybe the plant and you are in the same piece, the same picture, and it illustrates that we’re all in this together.”

Helianthus divaricatus print from the Invasive Species series by Penelope Gottlieb

Helianthus divaricatus from the Invasive Species series

A group of four orchids from the Vanishing Species series by Penelope Gottlieb

A group of four orchids from the Vanishing Species series

For Hutchison, the connection to the natural world in Gottlieb works is crucial. “Her exhibition does present botanicals topically and with a somewhat urgent call to concern, but the rendering, colors, and size of her works make for a powerful experience,” he said.

The 30 works on display in Against Forgetting are vibrant reminders of our changing world. “I would really love it if the paintings left people with kind of a new thought or a question or something to think about when we contemplate what‘s happening to the world, to the state of nature,” she said.


This post by Judy Hevrdejs originally appeared in Keep Growing, the member magazine of the Chicago Botanic Garden.
©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

April definitely did not go out like a lamb this year. You probably didn’t put away your sweater until the end of the month, when temperatures finally hit 80 degrees.

Here at the Chicago Botanic Garden, we recorded our coldest April ever since we started recording temperatures in 1982. Our average high temperature in April was 48.1, which is 8.7 degrees below normal.

What did the cold weather mean for our plants?

Luckily, nothing devastating. Early bloomers, like winter aconite, crocus, and snowdrops, weren’t affected, and many bloomed as expected. Those species can also tolerate the colder temperatures we saw in April. If we had seen a few days of high temperatures and some of the more delicate flowers had opened, followed by a subsequent freeze, that would most likely have damaged plants.

May (and later) bloomers are also probably going to arrive on schedule. But plant species that usually bloom in April took their time. Celeste Vandermey, supervisor of plant records, checked to see how late some perennials and trees were this year. On average, most were about two weeks late, with a few outliers taking even longer than usual:

Saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) in bloom

Saucer magnolia (Magnolia × soulangeana)

Magnolias: Usually, these start to bloom during the first two weeks of April. This year, we didn’t see flowers start to open until the first week of May.

Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa) in bloom

Higan Cherry (Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’)

Cherries: Mid-April is prime time for cherries here. They have their own festival in Washington D.C. and this year reached their peak there in the first week of April. Our cherries waited until early May.

Red oak (Quercus rubra) leaves emerging

Red oak (Quercus rubra) leaves emerging

Native trees: McDonald Woods is home to many native trees, including oaks and maples, which usually start to leaf between April 8-15. But this year leaves didn’t start to appear until May as well.

Gold Tide forsythia (Forsythia 'Courtasol') in bloom

Gold Tide® forsythia (Forsythia ‘Courtasol’)

Forsythia: Since the Garden began to keep track of first blooms on our grounds more than 25 years ago, this is the latest we’ve ever seen forsythia bloom.

Late bloomers have now all started to exit their winter dormancy. Their tardiness does not mean other species will continue to be late. Once temperatures remain above freezing and the soil warms up, which seems to have begun, most species will do their thing at their expected time. It’s safe to—finally—say spring has arrived.

Redbud (Cercis canadensis) in bloom

Next up: Redbuds
(Cercis canadensis)

Check out the Garden’s What’s in Bloom Highlights every Monday and Thursday for new selections of plants that are putting on a beautiful show, and where to find them.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Many of the display gardens at the Chicago Botanic Garden may be sleeping this time of year, but our horticulturists definitely are not. They’re hard at work during snowy winters, thinking about all the new plants and planning for the New Year.

The Garden in Winter

We asked a few horticulturists for their gardening resolutions for 2018—whether at the Chicago Botanic Garden, or in their own backyard. Feel free to snag one of their ideas for yourself.

Heather Sherwood, senior horticulturist, English Walled Garden

Heather Sherwood, senior horticulturist, English Walled Garden
Some of my New Year’s resolutions are to clean and sharpen my tools, start a compost pile with my kitchen scraps, pet more bumble bees, and sit on a garden bench every day. Okay, maybe every week. Well, at least every month. Baby steps. Baby steps.

Michael Jesiolowski, senior horticulturist, Entrance Gardens

Michael Jesiolowski, senior horticulturist, entrance gardens
I want to include more bulbs in my perennial plantings. Bulbs might not be the first thing that comes to mind when going plant shopping, but they can be used to complement perennials in bloom or massed on their own to make a bold statement. How about an early summer combo of Allium ‘Globemaster’ and Eremurus ‘Cleopatra’? Hmmm…

Ayse Pogue, senior horticulturist, Japanese Garden

Ayse Pogue, senior horticulturist, Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden
My New Year’s resolution is to apply the principles of the  soil initiative the Garden has just begun. I am very excited to learn more about how to take care of our soils properly and, in the meantime, increase the vigor and resiliency of our plants.

Tom Soulsby, senior horticulturist, Rose Garden, Heritage Garden, and Linden Allee

Tom Soulsby, senior horticulturist, Krasberg Rose Garden, Heritage Garden, and Linden Allee
For me, plants with especially unique leaf characteristics such as color, shape, and variegation have recently piqued my interest. I’ll be on the hunt in 2018 for more plant ideas that express these characteristics. Distinctive plants inspire my seasonal designs in the Heritage Garden.

Wade Wheatley, assistant horticulturist, Greenhouses

Wade Wheatley, assistant horticulturist, Greenhouses
My horticultural New Year’s resolution is to be a better plant dad to my houseplants. Since I spend the day at work taking care of the tropical plants at the Garden, it is sometimes difficult to maintain enthusiasm to come home and keep watering plants. However, I know that when I am more attentive to my houseplants they thrive and brighten up my living space.

Tom Weaver, horticulturist, Dwarf Conifer Garden and Waterfall Garden

Tom Weaver, horticulturist, Dwarf Conifer Garden and Waterfall Garden
My New Year’s resolution for my home garden is to be less stressed out when my dog, Pepin, tries to help me by digging holes all over the garden. I chose this because she loves to dig and I don’t think I’m ever going to stop her, so I might as well use the help and make use of the holes she’s digging!


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org