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Let Latin culture grow on you at Macy's plant display
By Deborah Donovan | Daily Herald Staff

Plants from Mexico and Central America are part of Macy's Chicago flower show.


Photos Courtesy Macy's

Floranova makes quite an impression at Macy's State Street store in Chicago.


Photos Courtesy Macy's

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Published: 3/22/2008 12:15 AM

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Latin culture swings through Macy's flagship store on State Street in Chicago.

Floranova, which runs through March 30, features artwork, music, food and, of course, thousands of plants and flowers.

The annual flower show draws inspiration this year from Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, the Amazon and Miami Beach.

Floral displays stretch inside the store's first floor along the State Street side from Randolph south to Washington Street.

The showiest flower collections -- representing an Amazon experience -- are the farthest north.

They feature palm trees 28 feet tall, accompanied by red and green banana plants, nearly 30 types of ferns, rubber trees and blue hydrangeas.

It's here you'll see metal flowers inspired by the artwork of David Lebatard, the Cuban-American artist known as Lebo.

Macy's commissioned him to create the logos for the show.

The laser-cut aluminum flowers hang 14 stories up, and the skylights make them particularly magical during the day, said Jon Jones, the store's visual director.

Nearby are 5-foot cast aluminum pieces by Maria Bonomi, called Brazil's top living artist. The leaf-inspired pieces move delicately, thanks to hand-made brass toggles that the artist engineered, Jones said.

Tall, graceful bamboo plants also make an impression in the horticultural march down the aisle.

At the south end are plants from Mexico and other parts of Central America. The anchors here include a huge pencil cactus and agaves, along with sedums, other succulents, gardenias, jade plants and hanging lipstick plants.

In the displays, visitors will see schefflera, white hydrangeas, orchids, geraniums, mosses, maidenhair fern, ming fern, ponytail palm and many other plant varieties.

This is the first year flower beds have been installed on the floor of the store where customers can see them up close and even touch them. Usually they are placed on ledges up high.

Mammoth, colorful paper mache figures include Mother Earth clasping both white and black babies. A very pretty 16-foot rooster decorated with flowers stands in the store's lower level.

"The idea is to capture the colors and textures, the culture and lifestyle of Latin America," Jones said.

Another floral display is in the Walnut Room on the store's seventh floor. Chef Rick Bayless' Frontera Fresco is also part of a food court on this floor.

And paintings by Lebo are displayed on this level.

Different markets and entertainment will be featured during the week.

Thursday through March 30, volunteer master gardeners will offer guided tours. These free tours are on a first -come, first-served basis at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. They all start at the fountain atrium.

A Latin marketplace with samples from local restaurants and entertainment from local musicians and dancers along with other wares will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday in the lower level.

At noon on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday different chefs will demonstrate and give samples from recipes in the Culinary Kitchen on the lower level.

Admission to Floranova is free, but many items are for sale, of course.

Call (312) 781-1000 or visit

Behind the scenes

It's quite a challenge to mount an exhibit of thousands of flowers and plants in a large old downtown department store.

Jon Jones, visual director, revealed some of the techniques used at Macy's, 111 N. State Street, Chicago.

• The 28-foot-tall Queen palms transport well, but they had to lie horizontally in the truck, so they were a little limp when they arrived.

• The first floor of the store has exactly one water spigot. That means laying 350 feet of hose.

• Four plant people work every night to clip, water, tweak and repair the exhibit.

• Laser cutting was used to transfer the artwork of David Lebatard, called Lebo, to aluminum flowers hanging from the 14-story ceiling.