Central Illinois woke up this morning to a dark, dreary day where a steady mist dampened spirits and made the near-freezing temperatures feel even colder. Tonight, we’ve dropped below freezing and the roads have turned to a sheet of ice. It’s been the kind of day where dreams of spring are extinguished before they have time to bloom.

When my friend and fellow plant-a-holic Laura (who blogs over at Durable Gardening) suggested at lunchtime that we forget about food, grab our cameras and head to the U of I Plant Science Conservatory, I jumped at the opportunity.

Nun Orchid (Phaius tancarvilleae)





Just last week, we were excited by the prospect of the Nun Orchids (Phaius tancarvilleae) blooming and thought they might have broken bud over the weekend.

While most orchids are epiphytic (i.e. they grow on other plants), Nun Orchids are terrestrial and prefer a well-drained, acidic soil. Native to much of tropical Asia, they can be grown as a perennial in Zones 9-11, and find the conservatory environment just like home. (Source: Floridata)

Today, a few of the individual white buds had unfurled from the tightly-wrapped, almost Hosta-like flower clusters.  Soon these buds will open, displaying their rich, reddish-brown interiors– and I certainly plan to return for their unveiling.

But my visit today was not a waste, for when I entered the conservatory door, I saw an open instrument case laying on the ground. Nearby, a visitor was tuning his banjo as he sat on the bench near the entrance. Soon, he began to weave the most wonderful music with his fingers and voice — a sound that filled the conservatory with a life I’d never before witnessed.

Just as Laura arrived, the banjo player started to pack away his instrument to return to his workplace. I complimented him on his musicianship, and he simply said, “This is such a wonderful place. It rejuvenates me.”

After spending a little more time taking photos and fawning over the amazing examples of plant morphology in the conservatory, Laura and I packed up and headed back to our own workplaces. Together, we shared a feeling with the banjo player — a feeling of rejuvenation — on a dreary January day.

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