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100+ Things: A bold Poinsettia Show at the Botanical Gardens

Poinsettias aren't shy. They sport names like Luv U Hot Pink, Ruby Frost and Advantage Red.

And at the annual Poinsettia Show at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens (2655 South Park Ave.), they don't just command center stage, filling the atrium under the big glass dome. They demand total control. They are everywhere.

Follow them, and you discover a new world.

Our region has a tendency to think big. We have celebrated this phenomenon multiple times on our 100-Plus Things journey -- gazing down from the observation deck of the grand Buffalo City Hall, for instance, or wandering awestruck through Our Lady of Victory Basilica.

Approaching the Botanical Gardens, you feel a similar wonder.

The Botanical Gardens' annual poinsettia show, "Poinsettias: Expect the Unexpected," runs through Jan. 7. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Father Baker must have stopped in here -- it's almost right next door to the Basilica. Perhaps he was inspired by this place. Lord & Burnham, the world-renowned team who designed this glass house in the 1890s, set a high standard. They modeled our gardens after England's famous Crystal Palace, which once graced Kew Gardens in London.

Come the holidays, Buffalo's gorgeous greenhouse is simultaneously sparkling and soothing.

"It's a place that lifts your spirits, if you're feeling down or want some quiet," said Dave Swarts, the gardens' president and CEO.

Walk in, breathe in that humid summery air, and you're in a different place and time.

"I always say, you can go on vacation to the tropics for $11," said Erin Grajek, Associate Vice President of Marketing and Visitor Experience.

"It puts you in the holiday mood. You're not at the mall. You can come back to center at this crazy time. You just breathe and enjoy the beautiful colors, smells, and sounds."

One of the highlights is the model train display by the Western New York Garden Railway Society. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Almost as soon as you're in the door, you're in that magnificent atrium. Palm trees surround you, guiding your eyes up, up into that towering dome. When you come back to earth, that's when you see the poinsettias. Miles of them, heaps of them, red, pink, rose, and ivory.

Some are matte and bright. Others are speckled, as if sprinkled with snow. They have gorgeous, vivid names: Picasso, Gold Rush, Monet Twilight, Carousel Winter Rose, Orange Spice. Subtleties begin to strike you.

You may notice how the bright Luv U Hot Pink poinsettia has leaves with smooth edges, while the Ruby Frost, nearby, has spiky leaves. You admire anew the scarlet red poinsettias, not only blazing Advantage Red but Orion, too, and the beautifully apt Christmas Day.

These Premium Pink poinsettias are an eye-catching part of the display. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Led by the poinsettias, the entire conservatory radiates joy. Ornaments twinkle from the ceilings. Garland frames the doorways. Children flock to the model train room, maintained by the Western New York Garden Railway Society. Trains rattle around a whimsical landscape as midi Christmas carols play.

Audrey Brown and Julie Schrecengost friends from Hamburg, were among the grown-ups enjoying the fun.

"You get into the Christmas spirit," Brown said. "It's great to come with kids and see the trains. We took our grandchildren, when they were younger."

"It's relaxing," Schrecengost added, as the playlist switched appropriately to "The Holly and the Ivy." "Sometimes you get that winter day, when it's gray and cold. You come here, and just walking in, it feels like summer."

Following the trail of the poinsettia, it's irresistible to notice other festive touches. A pomegranate blooms in the Medicinal Garden. A citrus tree bears the musical name of Calomondin Orange. Koi gleam in the koi pond. You may gaze on a Chocolate Tree. And a Madagascar Jasmine, from the Dogbane family.

The Carousel Winter Rose poinsettia has a different look than the more tradition styles. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Even the gray-bearded Old Man Palm has put on the dog, ornaments glittering from its fuzzy branches. And the garden's oldest plant, the Prickly Cycad, is green and shining.

The Prickly Cycad was a gift from John J. Albright, of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. He presented it to the gardens in 1900. By then, the plant was already a few hundred years old. However old it is now, it, too, is celebrating.

The Christmas Tree in the Palm Dome is surrounded by poinsettias. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The poinsettia is exotic in its own right.

It belongs to a weird plant family, named spurge. What you think are red flower petals are really bracts, a term for this particular kind of leaf. Poinsettias need time in darkness, otherwise they won't turn red.

And the poinsettia gets its name -- who knew? -- from Joel Roberts Poinsett, a globe trotting adventurer. Poinsett served as the secretary of war under John Quincy Adams. He was the ambassador to Mexico when he introduced the plant to the United States in 1825.

Want to take notes? You won't feel conspicuous. You see other folks with notebooks, by themselves or with others, drawing, jotting, observing.

This is a place where you can stop and smell the roses.

"A creative team from an ad agency came in and were sketching," Grajek said. "It's quiet and serene. There's no rushing in here.

"Just go slow, and pay attention to every detail."


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