The Arid Greenhouse has quickly become one of my favorite areas of the Chicago Botanic Garden. I have to admit that I wasn't all that into cacti and other succulents until I began to spend more and more time exploring this fascinating greenhouse. With the challenge of shooting and posting a photograph every day for my 365 project in patterns and textures, I became a frequent visitor to the greenhouse, especially once the weather was too cold to spend much time outdoors. It has been one of the coldest and snowiest winters we've had in Chicago in a long time, forcing us photo enthusiasts to get creative in finding things to shoot indoors. It's amazing to me that as many times as I've been in the Arid Greenhouse, I never tire of it and I always find something new and interesting to photograph and learn about. Learning a bit about these plants and their adaptations to an environment of extremes has been fascinating. The unusual shapes, shallow root systems, waxy coatings and thorns or spines are all ways the plants have adapted to the harsh conditions of the desert and enable them to store and conserve water. Ranges in temperature from searing heat during the day to a 40 degree drop at night, rocky, sandy soil and precious little water have all forced cacti and succulents to not only adapt but thrive in their unique environment.
In this environment of extremes cacti and other succulents produce some of the most exquisite blooms I have ever seen. Last summer, a sudden downpour forced me into the greenhouses. In the Arid Greenhouse the 'Apricot Glow' cacti were in full bloom. If it hadn't rained that day I might have completely missed this spectacular display because their blooms only last a couple of days. Because I had just started my 365 project around that time, I quickly discovered what a treasure trove of interesting patterns and textures this greenhouse provides.
'Apricot Glow' Cactus
The tiny and colorful flowers of Echeveria
The Artichoke Agave is one of my favorite plants in the Arid Greenhouse. Its sharp colorful thorns and spines provide protection against thirsty animals and the pattern of leaves direct water downward to the root system. As the waxy leaves unfold they leave interesting imprints.
Another form of agave, the Thread Leaf Agave, is a plant I had never noticed before in the greenhouse until recently. It makes for a very interesting photo using a shallow depth of field.
In fact, the Arid Greenhouse is a perfect place to experiment with wide open apertures - the light and color variations in the greenhouse do well with this style.
'Red Glow' Echeveria
My macro lens often helps me see things I might otherwise miss with the naked eye. When I shot this Silver Jade Plant I was focusing on the colorful pop of pink and yellow on the leaf's edge. When I got it up on my computer screen I was surprised to see the subtle dot pattern as well.
One of my favorite textures I discovered was a fuzzy form of Echeveria. If you don't get down low to ground you might miss its wonderful texture. Because the plant was not labeled, I nicknamed it "Fuzzy Wuzzy."
Groupings of cacti make for some interesting compositions.
There are plants in bloom throughout the year in the Arid Greenhouse. The opening of the flower of the Royal Paintbrush was fun to witness a couple of months ago.
This is a small sampling of the many photos I've taken in the Arid Greenhouse; many more are posted in my 365 Project and throughout my website. I highly recommend a trip to all the Greenhouses at CBG but take some extra time to explore the unique environment of the Arid Greenhouse. It is filled with opportunities for wonderful photos and you'll stay toasty warm while you explore. Just be aware that all the Greenhouses are currently only available to those who hold tickets for the Orchid Show (February 15 - March 16th) - all the more reason to visit! Visit CBG's website for more info on the Orchid Show and read my previous post on photographing orchids.