8 Amazing Displays from the 2016 Philadelphia Flower Show

The Philadelphia Flower Show has been introducing its visitors to exotic and incredible flora since its very first exhibition in 1829, when the poinsettia, a flower native to Mexico, made its U.S. debut. The event, put on by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), is largest horticultural exhibition in the U.S. It stretches out over 10 acres in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and, according to Alan Jaffe, Director of Communications for the Flower Show, there are, on average, a million plants per show.

Part exhibition, part competition, the Flower Show chooses a new theme each year—and for 2016, PHS has partnered with the National Parks Service for “Explore America: 100 Years of the National Park Service.” Not only have the exhibitors created displays that honor the Parks, but the NPS has taken an active role in the event, too.

“The Parks Service has two exhibits at the show,” Jaffe says. “One of them is looking at the history of landscape architecture in the park system, and the other exhibit is the Find Your Park Pavilion. They’re bringing in rangers from across the country to do presentations, and we’ll also have webcams from different parts of the country. People will sit in an amphitheater, and they’ll watch a ranger who will take them on a hike through Muir Woods, for example, explaining what’s blooming there today. And the rangers will be here meeting people and explaining to them the joy of the different parks around the country.”

The Philadelphia Flower Show runs until March 13; here are just a few of the amazing displays we saw.


The first thing visitors to the Flower Show see is this structure, which was inspired by the architecture of the National Parks. There’s a 12-foot waterfall, floral chandeliers and totems, and life-sized sculptures of a grizzly bear and a buffalo.

Projection displays, created by the Philadelphia-based company Klip Collective, play imagery from our parks, and audio makes visitors feel like they’re there. “We put in hundreds of grape hyacinths this year so people really feel like they’re getting the first whiff of spring when they come in,” Jaffe says. Other plants in the display include crocuses, cosmos, and echinacea.


The centerpiece of this incredible display, created by the Philadelphia-based American Institute of Floral Designers, is an homage to the Chandelier Tree. That redwood, located in Leggett, California, is more than 300 feet tall and has a hole in its trunk wide enough to drive through. Visitors walking through the 20-foot-tall, 15-foot-wide replica should look up to see a dazzling array of chandeliers made with red flowers and crystals.

Around the Chandelier Tree are towering replicas of redwoods and artworks created using reclaimed wood, succulents, branches, and flowers—including this beautiful elk, made with twigs, branches, and rope string.


Schaffer Design’s display honors a number of national parks through the lens of photographer Ansel Adams. Standouts include the homage to Giant Dome in New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which mimics the limestone formations found in the cavern and tops them with amaranths, protea, roses, and leucadendron; a display honoring Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Hawaii which includes elements of sweet huck, midollino cane, Phalaenopsis orchids, and sweet peas from Japan (and a little white sand, of course); and a cascade of white flowers recalling Yosemite's Vernal Fall.


The Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania-based Robertson’s Flowers & Events created five vignettes designed to evoke the natural rock structures in Arches National Park. Each display—which, in addition to natural materials like flowers and driftwood, used cardboard and burlap, artfully arranged to make the most of their textures—was inspired by an actual structure (Robertson’s included a photo of the inspiration next to each manmade arch). The display won Best in Show - Floral.


There’s nothing more Philadelphia than the Liberty Bell, and this display has a giant one, covered in red, white, and blue blooms (which are made of paper). The surrounding display includes a garden with peonies, blue hostas, roses, and a lawn lined with white birch trees—and, of course, an excerpt from the Constitution. The display was created by the Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania-based Burke Brothers Landscape Design/Build.


This display, created by the Oakland, California-based Hood Design Studio, consists of several mesh rings, some of which are suspended from the ceiling. The design was inspired by Monument to the Third International, a building designed by Russian architect Vladimir Tatlin that was due to be erected in 1917. (The structure, nicknamed Tatlin’s Tower, was ultimately never built.)

The outside is meant to mimic redwood bark, and the inside invites visitors to look up to see slices of redwoods. A species of fern found in Muir Woods National Monument surrounds the exterior of the display.


It might seem counterintuitive, but wildfires are actually an important part of a forest's lifecycle—they allow certain plants to flower, allow for habitat diversity, and return nutrients to the soil. For its first 100 years, fires in Yellowstone were quickly stamped out, which played a role in a devastating 1988 wildfire that ravaged Yellowstone; some 36 percent of the park was affected [PDF].

The Glen Mills, Pennsylvania-based Stoney Bank Nurseries’ exhibit shows Yellowstone National Park after the fires. In addition to charred trees, the exhibit has more than 100 types of plants, from wildflowers and saplings to a replica of the park’s Morning Glory Geothermal Pool—which even has steam wafting off of it, though thankfully no sulfur smell—plus a wolf crafted from cryptomeria tree, celebrating the gray wolf’s return to the park.


The Bonsai art form has been around for more than two millennia—and after looking at these gorgeous shrubs, it’s not hard to see why. This display, created by the Glenmore-based Pennsylvania Bonsai Society, showcases trees from 20 to 100 years old. The Shimpaku Juniper tree above is 65 years old and has been training—a technique that involves wrapping wire around the branches to change their shape and angle—for 40 years.

Big Questions
What Are Those Tiny Spots on Apples?

The little pinprick spots on apples, pears, and potatoes are called lenticels (LEN-tih-sells), and they’re very important.

Plants need a constant stream of fresh air, just like people, and that “fresh air” means carbon dioxide. Flowers, trees, and fruit all take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. But unlike people, plants don’t have nostrils.

That's where a plant's lenticels come in. Each little speck is an opening in the fruit or tuber’s skin or the tree’s bark. Carbon dioxide goes in, and oxygen comes out. Through these minuscule snorkels, a plant is able to “breathe.”

Like any opening, lenticels are vulnerable to infection and sickness. In an apple disease called lenticel breakdown, a nutrient deficiency causes the apples’ spots to darken and turn into brown pits. This doesn’t hurt the inside of the fruit, but it does make the apple look pretty unattractive. In the equally appealing “lenticel blotch pit,” the skin around the apple’s lenticels gets patchy and dark, like a weird rash. 

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

Read One of the First Eyewitness Accounts of Antarctica

Stupendous icebergs, live volcanoes, and delicious (if slightly too rich) penguin soup—just a few of the details recorded on one of the earliest eyewitness accounts of Antarctica. Written in the 1840s by the botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker, the Antarctic Journal introduced the southern continent's natural wonders to the world. Now, the Joseph Hooker Correspondence Project and the Biodiversity Heritage Library have preserved and digitized it for a new generation of exploration junkies.

Born 200 years ago in Suffolk, England, Hooker would become one of the greatest naturalists and explorers of the 19th century. He was a close friend of Charles Darwin and was director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew from 1865 to 1885. But before that, at just 22 years old, he embarked on an epic voyage of discovery to Antarctica.

Chalk portrait of Joseph Dalton Hooker by George Richmond, 1855
Chalk portrait of Joseph Dalton Hooker by George Richmond, 1855
Public Domain

Hooker served as the assistant surgeon and botanist on the adventure under the command of Captain James Clark Ross, a veteran of seven previous Arctic expeditions. Like all of the Royal Navy’s voyages of discovery at the time, this one had specific orders: confirm the existence of the southern continent, find the south magnetic pole, collect flora and fauna, and chart new geographic features.

Armed with 25 reams of paper for preserving plants, glass greenhouses for live specimens, natural history books, and microscopes—plus a trunk of polar clothing—Hooker set up his tiny field laboratory in the HMS Erebus, the larger of the expedition’s two vessels.

The Erebus and the HMS Terror left England at the end of September 1839 and arrived in Hobart, Tasmania, in August 1840. From there, they sailed south and soon were in view of a rocky land ringed with pack ice and icebergs. Hooker recorded the incredible sights in his journal. "Saw a shoal of whales, and for the first time an iceberg, a most magnificent flat topped mass of ice about 160ft high, and a quarter of a mile long," he reported on December 28, 1840.

The ships skirted ice floes and inched closer to the continent. Mountains funneled massive glaciers toward the sea (which Ross named after himself), while a huge barrier of floating ice—later named the Ross Ice Shelf—created a perpendicular wall rising more than 160 feet above the ocean's surface, extending to the horizon. Hooker noticed rafts of penguins, white petrels, and gulls heading toward a hilly island at the northern end of the ice wall.

"At 8:45, observed the smaller hills on the Island … emitting small puffs of smoke, a discovery which interested us all very much," Hooker wrote on January 28, 1841. "4:30, observed the volcano emitting immense clouds of black smoke rising perhaps 300 feet above it; its margins tinged white by the sun, with a distinct red tinge from the fire below; it was a magnificent spectacle and a most extraordinary one."

The crew had discovered Antarctica's two largest volcanoes, which Ross named Mount Erebus and Mount Terror after their ships.

In addition to the southern continent, the expedition visited Australia, New Zealand, and smaller subantarctic islands. Whenever the ship anchored, Hooker went ashore to collect mosses, lichens, algae, and vascular plants. At sea, he deployed a tow net to capture plankton and other sea life. If the plants were frozen into the rocky soil, Hooker would chip them out of the earth and sit on them until they thawed. "The observations Hooker recorded in this [Antarctic Journal] and numerous other notebooks formed the basis of a flora of Antarctica and also of the wider regions visited," writes Cam Sharp Jones, the Joseph Hooker Correspondence Project officer at the Royal Botanical Gardens, in a blog post.

Botanical illustration in Joseph Dalton Hooker's 'Flora Antarctica'
Hooker's drawing of Nothofagus betuloides, the Magellan beech, which he collected on the Ross expedition.
Public Domain

The most colorful passages in Hooker's journal recount the antics of the ubiquitous penguins, which provided the only fresh meat for the crew during the voyage. "At first we had a dozen on board running wild over the decks following a leader … until one day the leader, finding the hawse hole [a small hole in the ship's hull for cables to pass through] empty, immediately made his exit & was followed by the rest, each giving a valedictory croak as he made his escape," Hooker wrote.

Penguins that didn't escape were made into all manner of entrees. "Their flesh is black & very rich & was much relished at first for stews, pies, curries, etc.," Hooker mused. "After a day or two we found it too rich with a disagreeable flavour … except in the shape of soup, which is certainly the richest I ever ate, much more so than hare soup which it most resembles."

After four years in ice-strewn seas, the entire crew was surely sick of penguin soup and longing for home by the beginning of 1843. The Ross expedition returned to England on September 4, having achieved most of its goals. Ross inferred the position of the south magnetic pole, confirmed the existence and character of the southern continent, and charted huge stretches of its coastline. Hooker recorded plant and animal life that was entirely new to science, which he published in his six-volume Flora Antarctica, a catalogue of more than 3000 descriptions and 530 illustrations of plants species he found on the voyage. The Erebus and Terror were freshened up and put back into naval service on the doomed Franklin expedition in 1845.

To commemorate Hooker's roles in exploration and science (and to mark the bicentennial of his birth), the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew is hosting an exhibition of his letters, paintings and prints from his travels, photographs, journals, important botanical illustrations, and even his own belongings. On display through September 17, 2017, Joseph Hooker: Putting Plants in Their Place demonstrates how, through exploration and curiosity, he transformed the study of plants into true science. In doing so, he brought us closer to one of Earth's most remote places.


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