If you want to trade out the cold and gray of winter for a warm, tropical locale full of exotic plants, then take a short trip to see the new displays of tropical bonsai in The North Carolina Arboretum’s Baker Exhibition Greenhouse.

There you can enjoy the warm, slightly humid air that sustains eight beautiful bonsai specimens representing six different species normally found in such distant lands as Brazil, Malaysia, India, Japan and the Philippines.

green-island-fig-ajBonsai specimens can range from herbaceous plants and vines to shrubs and trees. Through rigorously applied cultivation techniques, these plants are kept to small, artistic forms displayed in containers that are as remarkable as the plants growing in them.

Started in the early 1990s, The North Carolina Arboretum’s bonsai collection now includes more than 100 specimens carefully cultivated with a Southern Appalachian accent – including (but not limited to) local plant species, containers made by local potters, and bonsai specimens that portray well-known local landmarks like Mount Mitchell and Graveyard Fields.

The majority of the Arboretum’s bonsai collection consists of temperate species – plants adapted to survive winter by becoming dormant. Grown in fairly small containers – and therefore quite susceptible to cold weather damage, the temperate bonsai are kept in a protected area during the colder months – a place that is not too cold, but not too warm either.

The tropical and sub-tropical bonsai, meanwhile, require hot, bright and humid places year-round, conditions that the Baker bougainvillea-ajExhibition Greenhouse can mimic quite well – enough so that the paper flower (Bougainvillea glabra) can stay in bloom there for a long period of time. Other than their habitat requirements, however, these tropical bonsai share most of the features of our temperate bonsai, from hand-crafted containers to trunks, stems and leaves that are as beautiful as any sculpture or other work of art.

This new exhibit of tropical bonsai will be on display every November through April and complements the Arboretum’s exhibit of temperate bonsai plants in the outdoor Bonsai Exhibition Garden from May through October. Between these two complementary exhibits, visitors to The North Carolina Arboretum can now see bonsai on display every day of the year.

Of course, there’s still plenty to do outside at the Arboretum throughout the winter, from hiking and biking our 10 miles of trails to watching cedar waxwings, pileated woodpeckers and other birds eat the red holly berries throughout the garden areas. If you need a little dose of the tropics, however, be sure to check out this fascinating new bonsai exhibit.

The Baker Exhibition Greenhouse, part of the Baker Exhibit Center, is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.